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“Monkeys” is what Mum calls her six children collectively, such as when she is trying to mobilize them for an outing. The association between the children and, by extension, the entire Vincent family with nonhuman animals is extended into the idea of their captivity in a zoolike environment from which all, in different ways, struggle to accept or to escape. By using one daughter, Sophie, as the narrator, Susan Minot partially reveals the family’s internal conflicts—primarily between the parents but also among the various siblings. Dad’s remoteness from the rest of the group, in part as the only non-Catholic, and Mum’s frequent, and increasingly frantic efforts to involve him create an anxious atmosphere for the children.

One evening Dad leaves the house to do an errand—possibly just to get away and drive around alone—and Mum organizes a prank for his return. She and all the children hide in the linen closet, planning to spring out and surprise him when he comes looking for them. But when he enters the home, he completely ignores their absence.

Gus says, “Why doesn’t he—?” “Ssshhh,” Mum says like spitting, and we all freeze. He moves again—his footsteps turn and bang on the hollow threshold into the TV room where the rug pads the sound.

Next we hear the TV click on and the sound swelling and the dial switching tick-a tikka tikka tick till it lands on a crowd roar, a football game.

Through the course of the novel, the gulf between the parents widens until they are separated in intent if not in permanent residence. When the mother and children spend the summer in Maine, but the father stays home in Massachusetts, Mum becomes friends, as the children initially understand it, with another man; later it is clear they are lovers. The new excitement in Mum’s demeanor, as well as the difference in the parents’ worldviews, is shown through their observations and comments on a single incident that had excited her. Mum claimed to...

(The entire section is 522 words.)