Review of Michael Graziano’s Love Song of Monkey (Fiction)

April 19, 2009

So your neurotic, unfaithful wife, driven to desperation by your apathy, manages to (unknowingly) cure you of AIDS, rendering you immortal, then dumps you in the bottom of the ocean tethered to a bust of Venus. What do you do when you awaken? Why, forgive, of course, and love. Takes eternity, but still. Princeton psychology professor Michael S.A. Graziano’s new book, Love Song of Monkey (Leapfrog Press), removes his protagonist Jonathan from humanity itself so he can arrive at that startlingly simple conclusion.

Love Song of Monkey harkens back to a time before the complications of the novel. It’s very short, doggedly fantastic, the sort of straight-line narrative that widens eyes around campfires or at bedtime, while being beautifully post-modern.

Jonathan’s wife, Kitty, and the miraculous Doctor Kack, unable to distinguish the catatonia induced by Dr. Kack’s cure for AIDS, dump Jonathan on the ocean floor. Jonathan is, at the beginning of the novel, a “jerk,” a useless counterpoint to the harried Kitty, which makes Jonathan’s discovery of his own resilience at the bottom of the ocean surprising both to him, and us, especially given the petty vulnerability of his previous condition.

As the newly living-dead, Jonathan is able to look back at another sort of living death, his previous life, and pare it down to its essentials. Should he obsess? Should he forgive? Or should he slow his thoughts down to reflect the immensity of his condition? In his new state, he needs no food, no shelter, after all. Jonathan becomes something of an ascetic, a detached Dr. Manhattan-like figure who hallucinates a submarine. Yet, Jonathan is always something more, tethered as he is to Venus, a physical manifestation of his undying love. Ever hopeful, eventually, Jonathan plunges into a volcano from which he emerges up-top as a found object in a museum, a demon-rock that resembles a human. Is he forever doomed to be misunderstood, his humanity unrecognized? Love Song of Monkey is not nearly so nihilistic. Having waited so long, the short 150 page novel eventually has him retrieve the essence of his human condition in a wholly satisfying manner.

In the middle stretch, one senses the author feeling his way forward in the ocean’s darkness for answers about what to do with his protagonist’s immortality but even as he does, a sense lingers that Graziano is doing it because he too, like J.Alfred Prufrock, has heard the mermaids singing each to each, and wondered why exactly and what now.


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