|Dr. Zira...Monkey Dog|
Dr. Zira is the perfect hostess for this weeks book review Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet. Afterall, she is a Brussels Griffon, affectionately known as a monkey dog. Unfortunately she wouldn't stand next to the book for her photo. I'm not sure if she was displeased with the text or simply didn't like the noise of the book falling over when I tried to stand it up next to her. Oh well...
Love in Infant Monkeys is a work of fiction, specifically short stories. Millet is a very funny woman and I really enjoyed her earlier book George Bush, Dark Prince of Love (about president 41 and a crazy woman who is obsessed with him.) Very weird, but very funny. Love in Infant Monkeys is definitely a more mature and serious book, though funny in parts. In fact the collection was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. (I read it because I like Millet's other books and I figured a Pulitzer finalist couldn't be bad).
All of the stories in Love in Infant Monkeys focus on animals or actually the interaction between famous people and animals, definitely another odd premise which seems to be Millet's thing. Madonna, Sharon Stone, David Hassellhoff, Thomas Edison and Noam Chomsky all make appearances. Please be forewarned that this is not really a book for a pet lover, its more for the fan of experimental well crafted short stories. The people, rather then the animals, are the focus here.
The stories are all fictions sprung form a factual incident. The title story refers to the infamous "wire mother" experiments of Harry Harlow, a watershed moment for animal rights. Another story is about Thomas Edison. On January 4, 1903 Edison electrocuted Topsy a circus elephant who had killed two abusive trainers. Over the years Topsy has become something of a patron saint of the animal rights movement. In Millet's story Edison is tormented by guilt and repeatedly views footage of the electrocution and talks to Topsy, eventually seeing her as a sort of Christ figure.
Overall, I thought the collection was fairly uneven. The first story, Sexing the Pheasant, about Madonna on a pheasant hunt is basically one long not very good joke. Another story, Sir Henry, begins as a very sweet account of a dog walker who is pretty down on human nature until he begins walking the dog of a dying man. For some reason I can not fathom David Hassellhoff is thrown into the mix appearing as the owner of another dog in walkers care.
I did really like one story about Nikola Tesla, a famous inventor. The story focused on him as an old man living in a hotel surrounded by his beloved pigeons. I have never heard of Tesla before but when I looked him up I found that he did indeed adore pigeons.
All in all I would give the book a three star rating because I do think Millet can pen a beautiful phrase, and a few of the stories are excellent. I can definitely see these stories being discussed in college classrooms for years to come. Dr. Zira, however, thought the book was a bit over blown and decided to take a nap. I promised her next time we would pick something less serious.