John Paul Allen
Biting Dog Press
Autographed Hardcover Limited Edition, $35
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
Richard and Sandra, spending a final couple of hours together before Richard embarks on a four-day business trip, are completely in love. At least, Sandra thinks they are. But things are not always what they seem.
18 months later, Sandra is using therapy and her work as a research scientist to fight through her grief. Sandra is now a widow – but, again, things are not always what they seem.
Sandra’s work takes her to Uganda, where she leads a team studying the behavioral habits of gorillas. As her work in the field drones on, one of her subjects begins to remind her of her long lost love.
But – and it may as well be the theme of John Paul Allen’s entire novella – things are not always what they seem. And while that theme works well within the confines of the story, it shines a light on some of the overall flaws in Allen’s work.
The story starts out strong, introducing interesting characters and an intriguing concept. Allen initially seems to be taking his time, laying the foundation for a surprising and disturbing outcome. The story moves at a brisk but measured pace, clipping along in short, crisp chapters that set up a fairly large cast and some inviting subplots. The characterizations are simple but strong, and the tale is laid out in such a way as to suggest a number of possible destinations.
Ah, but – say it with me now – things are not always what they seem.
About three-quarters of the way through the novella, Allen begins to stumble. The interesting subplots and subtle hints are abandoned. Instead, the story (as well as its main character) suddenly begins taking large, illogical leaps that speed us to what appears to have been the purpose of the story to begin with: a graphic scene that’s best explained by the novella’s title. The majority of the cast gets unceremoniously dropped, and before you know it the while thing is tied up with a twisted little bow. The end comes so abruptly, you may find yourself paging back to see if you’ve skipped over a section by accident.
These critiques aside, Monkey Love is an enjoyable read. Allen has a natural storytelling voice that really shines through. I just wish he’d taken a little more time and maintained his initial pace throughout the piece.