Review: Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus?, by A.G. Pasquella

>>Published: May 2010

>>Finally got around to it: November 2012

“Rise & Shine, Cy!”

Groaning Pain-Filled Cyrus raises his head from the bathroom floor. His fur is matted with spilled Champagne, Cocaine, Cigar Ash. Cyrus squints through the open door. Standing perfectly pressed next to a lamp covered by lacy red panties is Bobby Jack, softly smoking.

“Get on up, Cy. Got us a busy day today. But first—breakfast.”

Cyrus groans. “Can’t make it, Bobby Jack. I’m done in.”

“Here, take these.” Bobby Jack scatters a handful of pills in front of The Preaching Chimp. Cyrus greedily gobbles them up.

“Now sniff this.”

Vial of White Powder held beneath the chimp’s flat nose. Cyrus sucks it back.

“Now put on your suit & let’s go get some eggs.”

***

A.G. Pasquella’s Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus? dares to ask only the most pertinent question on most individual’s minds: how do we know Christ hasn’t already returned to the world… and possibly in the form of a resurrected spider monkey named Floyd?

I know, right? This is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.

Pasquella’s first novella is a hyperactive combination of Looney Tunes-style humour, science gone awry, and light social commentary wrapped up in a variety-show-cum-film-noir package. Think shades of Natural Born Killers’ absurdity and social disaffection, only without the mass murder. Or more simply put, Rocky & Bullwinkle meet the snake oil salesman and the hobo evangelist.

Bob and Janet, scientists with the best of intentions, are working to teach Cyrus the chimpanzee how to speak. Cyrus, however, escapes captivity and embarks on a cross-country journey involving: a deranged Colonel and his sideshow-ready products—like shrunken heads and pickled Siamese twins; Bobby Jack and Jackie Bob, a pair of shysters (television producers, naturally) who want to promote the gospel of Cyrus; and of course, the titular risen-from-death spider monkey, Floyd.

Pasquella’s novella is thankfully devoid of pretension. This is an off-the-wall takedown of commercialism and social gullibility—with the singing, dancing, evangelizing chimp on stage and the slightly more evolved chimps in the crowd, tossing money at an absurdity just so they can get a little more “oomph” in their daily lives—written as if it were a strange, pseudo-sci-fi stream-of-consciousness. There is a definite narrative arc to Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus?, but the plot embraces a style reminiscent of variety shows like Laugh In; its chapters are broken into smaller scenes and ideas, each of them tangents in their own right that feed into the larger whole. In a way, it reads a bit like a novella travelling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole of do-you-remember-whens—separate thoughts all spiralling out from a point of origin, thematically winding their way back around again.

Pasquella employs a deliberate and sometimes strange method of capitalizing most nouns and replacing the word “and” with ampersands. It’s a call back to the carnival barkers of old—when excitability trumped truth, honesty, and value when it came to pushing a product to a salivating crowd, eager to part ways with their money. Additionally, quick screenwriting place and time notations are used to jump quickly from one scene and/or idea to the next, to accentuate the gravitas of a given situation. Occasionally these stylistic details work and propel the story further, but every now and then—mostly with respect to the overuse of capitalization—I found them to be more distracting than likely intended. Often what is being said and the situations presented do more than enough to sell the severity and ridiculousness of the moment without having to additionally rely on these stylistic conceits, but neither did they detract from my ability to enjoy the book.

Why Not a Spider Monkey Jesus? is light on plot and character, but intentionally so. This little acid trip of a novella is amped-up satire, and Pasquella does a fine job poking fun at the unenviable parts of our selves that are so quick to believe and even quicker to judge. That, and it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

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