I discovered Matt Ruff through Sewer, Gas, Electric: The Public Works Trilogy. If you haven’t read that one, find it and read it. It’s wacky and subveI discovered Matt Ruff through Sewer, Gas, Electric: The Public Works Trilogy. If you haven’t read that one, find it and read it. It’s wacky and subversive, and brilliantly plotted. Set This House in Order, the follow-up (though not a sequel) was several years in the works, but well worth the wait. It had so many red herrings and false leads that it read like a mystery-thriller, though it said much more about people and their relationships. Bad Monkeys was a book I eagerly awaited, and I was pleasantly surprised when I received notification that it was ready for me at the library.
It reads just like a good book should read: It’s tight, well written, compelling, and interesting. It has the same sorts of characteristics that made Set This House in Order one of the very few books that kept my wife up past midnight. And like that book, it read more like a mystery-thriller than impressions suggeste. At first, I thought it might be a “more of the same” sort of book, at least in style, but the plot is so different and so strange that it stands alone.
Bad Monkeys is about a woman named Jane Charlotte, who has been interred into a psychiatric institution, due to her possible schizophrenia. She relates the story of the events that brought her to the institution to her therapist, who is (obviously) doubtful of the accuracy of her story. And the author gives us many clues along the way to make us wonder who’s telling the truth, who’s really who they say they are, and if we’re reading along to another version of Fight Club. There are so many twists and turns in this story that it’s possible to get a little lost among the paths, but Ruff is a talented guide, who takes us to an end that may not be obvious, but is certainly satisfactory.
Unfortunately, Bad Monkeys isn’t this author’s best work. I still have to give that designation to Sewer, Gas, Electric, just because it’s the most original book he’s written (and possibly the most original book I’ve read in the past 15 years). But he is a skilled, talented author, and if you like stories with a great deal of suspense, a lot of “What the heck is going on?” moments, and want to read a compelling story that will keep you guessing, Bad Monkeys is a good place to start. Just make sure you work your way back through his catalog. You won’t be disappointed....more
Dan Brown gets a lot of flack for being a hack writer. I even read a collection of the 20 worst things he had ever written during his career as a writDan Brown gets a lot of flack for being a hack writer. I even read a collection of the 20 worst things he had ever written during his career as a writer, and I have to admit, it’s pretty bad. The thing is, the guy knows how to put together an intriguing thriller, so part of me wonders how much of those articles are meant to expose how bad of a writer he really is, and how much of them are motivated by jealousy. I’m a firm believer in the story as story, and nothing else, and I have to admit, Dan Brown tells a good story.
Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t have issues with Dan Brown as a writer. For one, I’m a little amazed that Robert Langdon is still the mighty skeptic who has to go through all these ridiculous hoops before he believes in something that tons of people are telling him is actually true. In Angels & Demons, he spent a lot of time telling people how the Illuminati was more symbolic than real, and then he found out that — GASP! — they’re real! In The Da Vinci Code, he told us that the Opus Dei was a legend, not fact, but after traipsing over Rome for three days, he came to find that — SHOCK! — they were real! So when he’s faced with a Masonic legend that lots of people are telling him is real, and not symbolic, don’t you think he might take a little less convincing? No, because apparently Robert Langdon has a mass of wet noodles for a brain.
My biggest issues with The Lost Symbol have to do with the characters, anyway. They’re wildly inconsistent. They’re all terribly smart, and know a little bit about everything, and are confident to a fault, but suddenly they become complete imbeciles, forget everything they know, and doubt themselves when it’s convenient to move the plot forward. Afterward, they go back to being their normal selves, like nothing happened to change who they are. I understand that characterization is often sacrificed for plot in thrillers, but I would at least ask that the characters remain consistent throughout the story, hey?
The story is entertaining, and about as deep and as relevant as anything else that Dan Brown has written. If you didn’t like his other books, then this one won’t win you over, but if you enjoy a thrilling story of conspiracies, mysteries, and adventure, then there are worse books to read than The Lost Symbol....more