Saturday, January 30, 2010
New World Monkeys: A Novel by Nancy Mauro tells the story of a young couple (Duncan and Lily), married for 5 years, who head to upstate NY one summer in an effort (although this is never stated directly) to salvage their troubled marriage. A series of bizarre events unfold including the killing of a wild boar, Lily's friendship with a Peeping Tom and the couple's archeological dig of their backyard to unearth the body of the nanny that abducted Lily's great-grandfather. Hmm . . . sounds like a lot is going on but the main plot, that of the couple and the slow unraveling of their marriage, moves slowly with little to no progress. That seems intentional - there is no action in that plot because the couple is really examining the state of their marriage, themselves and how they relate to each other against the backdrop of the crazy townspeople lusting for revenge for the killing of the wild boar, the bones in the backyard and the revelations from the Peeping Tom.
I really like the author's style of writing - it is smart and witty with sentences that are crafted, not just written. In fact, Carolyn See in her review of the book for the Washington Post , said the book belonged to a sub-genre that is rare these days, "Educated-Women's Lit" - I think that is a great way to describe a genre for this book. Although I appreciated the smart writing style and dry humor in the book, I did get frustrated with the characters, especially Lily. She seemed supercilious and invulnerable and once she befriended Llyod, the Peeping Tom, and began partaking in his perverted afternoon adventures, she lost me. I found I cared more about her husband, Duncan, and his struggles in the ad business including his insecurities about not being smart or successful enough. But I never found myself caring much about either of them as much as I cared about their examination of their marriage - this novel isn't really about the characters but about the marriage and its fate. The narrative is so smart that is almost makes up for the fact that the characters are not really the main stars of the novel.
I read this book for an upcoming book club meeting for Hardcovers and Highballs - our meeting is Feb 3rd and the author will be present. I am looking forward to discussing the book with her and learning more about her perspectives on Lily and Duncan and their marriage. I will post an update after our meeting and share what I learn.
Nancy Mauro is Canadian but has worked at an ad agency in NY and now lives in Manhattan. I am spotlighting her for the Literary Road Trip