This book breaks narrative rules. I mean, the narrator staggers drunkenly from one side of the fourth wall to the other. Sometimes he plops down on the couch next to you and starts eating your cheetoes. And he/she/it/disembodied-narrator-voice isn’t even part of the story. Chats all over the place in a familiar storytelling manner as if he was someone involved, someone there, but he’s (I’ll settle on the masculine pronoun) not. He’s just a voice. It comes off like some dude, maybe your bartender, telling you this really long yarn about a couple of nut-jobs living out a trippy mashup of Gilligan’s Isle and Castaway…
And it works beautifully!
Monkey Business is pure, cut-loose fun. Any lessons about life, love and how to be are purely coincidental. (But present all the same.)
The story is a buddy adventure about two guys trying to escape a tropical island. It’s also about angry monkeys, indigenous dudebros, the fragile, shifting borders of reality and exploding fish. It kicks off in the aftermath of a failed attempt at escape. The most recent of several. No appendages were lost in this failure, and the protagonists’ frustration has an accepting, fatalistic edge. The protagonists are longtime friends, caught on this island for some time, but the author deftly skips all the backstory and jumps us right into that special kind of humor born from watching other peoples’ pain and ineptitude. Exposition creeps in naturally… along with the monkeys. This is a big plus for me, as massive expository blobs make me want to fling massive excretory? blobs.
What really stuck with me with this story was its frenetic edge-of-reality scenes. If you’ve ever seen the psychadelic trip-scenes from Simpsons and Futurama – yeah, Monkey Business has parts like that, just as vivid, scenes that burst like a vomiting kaleidoscope inside my brain. The characters blur across the ragged edge of sanity as the world gets weirder and weirder around them, as if some ancient disgruntled god (probably that asshole narrator) is absently messing with them. The slippage of reality works beautifully to pull you in and keep you reading as the story gains more of a fantastical flavor. By the end of it Monkey Business has the feel of an American tall tale, with mundane reality shoved off into the wings to make room for a good story – Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Big Fish, Monkey Business.
Or, As Pratchett might have written:
I know, I know! The Librarian was a great ape, not a monkey. Cut me some slack!