Curtis Smith is an author who continues to impress. Last year, his novel Sound and Noise offered a touching take on love, loss, and friendship. Before that, his short story collection The Species Crown prompted me to start this blog. This year, Smith is back with another collection of short stories, this one titled Bad Monkey, and with it, he continues his track record of creating wonderfully moving characters who do their best to deal in good faith with a flawed and sometimes uncaring world.
Take, for instance, “The Girl in the Halo,” which centers on the disappearance of a small-town high school student named Sally and its effect on a disaffected young man from the wrong side of town. The story occurs against the backdrop of farmland that is quickly giving way to housing developments and thus is about two kinds of loss. On one hand, there’s the missing Sally, and on the other hand, there’s the changing landscape of the small town–the change in the very essence of its culture. But just as Smith never solves the mystery of the missing girl for us (and prefers only to tantalize and insinuate), he also never pins the blame for the change in the small town on any single factor. Yet even as he offers a textured subtle examination of the place of loss in all of our lives, he does so with an undying sense of hope (misguided though it sometimes is!). There’s the boyscout troop that prays (pointlessly, from the narrator’s perspective) for the safe return of the missing Sally, and even as the losses mount, there’s the birth of a foal to remind Smith’s readers that all is never lost, that life persists, that hope springs, in the words of Alexander Pope, eternal.
The tension between hope and its opposite echoes throughout Bad Monkey. Indeed, this is Smith’s gift: to admit that the world is cruel yet to insist that we all make the best of it. A gifted and (apparently, given his output) hardworking writer, Smith demonstrates with Bad Monkey that he’s still at the top of his game, a master of crafting heartfelt, insightful fiction.
And the cover is cool, too!