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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374

Boston-born writer Susan Minot's 176-page novel, Monkeys, deals with the slow tearing apart of a family by alcoholism, infidelity, and an auto accident. The novel is a testament to the power that parents exercise within a family.

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The Vincent family includes Augustus ("Gus) Paine Vincent, Rose Marie ("Rosie") O'Dare Vincent, and their seven children: Caitlin, Sophie (who narrates the first section), Delilah, Gus, Sherman, Chicky, and Minnie. The children are coddled by their devoted, beautiful, and sensitive mother, Rosie, who is Catholic. Their WASP-y father spends Sunday mornings alone at home surveying his garden rather than joining the family at church. When the family goes ice skating on a weekend day, their father pays no attention to the impressive performance of Rosie (who is a former figure skater), while the children watch in awe.

Gus routinely drinks bourbon when he returns from work to their large home on the North Shore of Boston. When he goes out to the store alone to do errands, his bottles of alcohol get incrementally larger. One day, in a fit of rage, he tells Rosie to shoot herself. The effect on the children is devastating. Rosie eventually takes up with a wealthy man with whom she has an affair and, eventually, another daughter.

When Rosie is killed in a car accident, having been struck by a train while driving home, her son, Sherman, suspects it was a suicide. The family spends another Christmas together, but each child struggles in her or her own way (the boys are all using drugs). The father and children gather together at the novel's end to scatter her ashes in Maine, where the family used to vacation. The children have no idea what to do following the loss of their mother.

The novel's nine chapters demonstrate the way in which the father's behavior—even his non-verbal behavior—effects his children. The children fear spending time alone with their father (in the absence of their mother), because they know him only as a distant man. The children's perception of how the father treats their mother exerts a powerful effect on them. Because their mother is the mainstay of the family, the children, despite their family's wealth, struggle with drugs and depression after her death.

Monkeys

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3009

Although Monkeys is being marketed as a novel, it could as easily be considered a collection of interconnected short stories. The Vincent family’s story begins in February, 1966, and ends in May, 1979, with seven episodes in between described in what might be called chapters, but which also work as discrete stories. Much of what would be central in a traditional novel, the mother’s death, for example, takes place between episodes in this book, and both the texture of the family’s life and the essence of the nine characters must be inferred from what Minot chooses to reveal.

The narrative strategy behind Minot’s approach to her story is one key to the seemingly minimalist rendering of what in other hands might be a family saga of much greater scope, drawn to a much finer scale. The first episode, called “Hiding,” is narrated in first person by Sophie, the second eldest child. Thus, her sense of the family, their behavior and their interaction, dominates the reader’s initial response. In the second episode, “Thanksgiving Day,” the point of view is third-person limited, with Sophie as the observer. The seven additional episodes are narrated by a third person who is not involved in the events and who chooses to remain relatively distant from the individual consciousnesses of her characters.

Because Sophie’s childish view is the initial view, the reader more readily accepts the childlike perceptions and language of the third-person narrator who gradually assumes...

(The entire section contains 3441 words.)

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