Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The themes of Monkeys by Susan Minot include childhood and the unique relationship among siblings, depression, and wealth.
The seven children of the Vincent family (Caitlin, Sophie, Delilah, Gus, Sherman, Chicky, and Minnie) fear their father, Augustus ("Gus") who is a distant alcoholic. They hear their father tell their mother to "go shoot herself" during a Thanksgiving dinner. To the seven Vincent children, their mother is the bedrock of their family. When they see her threatened, the children realize that the protections of childhood are temporary.
Their mother, Rosie, is a beautiful Irish-Catholic woman who attended Boston College and was a talented figure skater (a skill that she showcases during weekend family trip to an ice rink). Because she has devoted herself to the rearing of her children, she has little interaction with the world outside of her nuclear family. Church is a major part of her world and Catholic upbringing. Gus, a wealthy Harvard alumnus, does not attend church, but prefers the company of his garden. Rosie spends her life trying to shield the father's alcoholism and abusive nature from their children.
When an automobile accident (which might have been a suicide) removes the mother from her children's lives, they rely on each other. The boys turn to drugs and develop addictions. As Rosie's children come of age, they realize the extent of their mother's depression owing to her unhappy marriage. In brief, the relationship between the children's parents (even in the absence of abuse to the children themselves) wrought havoc on their emotional lives that affected them in adulthood.
The Vincent family's wealth owes primarily to their father's inheritance rather than to his work ethic. The nature of this wealth as "old money" makes it both unrewarding and inconstant. Wealth allows members of the family to ignore their addictions, mental illnesses, and emotional struggles. Because of this, wealth shields the family and prevents it from making real progress in their relationships with one another.