Richard's Reviews > Bad Monkeys

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff
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's review
Oct 24, 09

bookshelves: bookclub, scifi, bizarre
Recommended to Richard by:
Recommended for: Fans of absurdist mind-bending: Men in Black; Philip K. Dick; Fight Club
Read in October, 2009

This book started as a wild, five-star adventure. The closest comparison is to the movie Men in Black, but in this book the hidden organization is dedicated to rooting out evil, not to protecting aliens blah blah blah. Several parallels to the movie: the organization is completely hidden; they have some crazy technology; due to their unconventional mission they are very tolerant of unconventional personalities and tactics. And, most importantly, Ruff has the same absurdist sense of humor evidenced by the movie.

The title comes from the nickname for a division within the organization (which, it is made clear, is not part of the government). "Bad Monkeys" are the assassins devoted to killing evil people (real division names tend towards the baroque; this one is: "The Department of Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons", so you can see why they use nicknames). But not until "Cost-Benefits" has calculated that death is the best option; in some cases redemption might be attempted by the division nicknamed "Good Samaritans" or by "Second and Third Chances". Another division, "Scary Clowns", specializes in Psychological Operations.

Another similarity is to Fight Club. Our protagonist, Jane Charlotte, is very much an unreliable narrator. It soon becomes clear that she might not be telling the truth. It then becomes apparent that she might not know the truth. As we get to the end, it becomes very uncertain whether there is any truth in the book at all.

Ruff chose to pursue this path down the rabbit hole, and unfortunately ended up with a weaker book thereby. He gets to demonstrate his extreme cleverness, but at the expense of his readers' engagement. His choice led to a convoluted, mind-bending conclusion that is reminiscent of some of Philip K. Dick, but because he maintains a consistent and well-balanced plot, Ruff actually writes a much better story than PDK. Folks that like the movies made from Dick's stories are quite likely to enjoy this book.

The best news: even though this isn't the blow-out promised by the first pages, the book is a short and fast read. Probably four or five hours.
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