We're all shelf monkeys now
I didn’t know whether to laugh or shudder reading Corey Redekop’s Shelf Monkey. So I did both.
The novel tells the tale of failed lawyer turned bookstore widget Thomas, who finds his soulmates in an eccentric group of fellow employees at hypermegabookstore READ. The only problem is they’re more crazy than eccentric. They hold secret meetings where they burn offensive books – you know, Michael Crichton, Candace Bushnell, the Left Behind series – while assuming the monikers of beloved fictional characters. Oh, Corey, you had me at Yossarian. They have a particular hatred for a book club host called Munroe Purvis, who’s sort of a sordid cross between Oprah and Morton Downey Jr. and whose book club selections represent everything wrong with western society – imagine your grandmother’s diaries turned into bestsellers, and you’ll have an idea of what Purvis’s book club represents.
Of course, Purvis isn’t what he appears to be, and neither are many of Thomas’s bookstore friends. Some of them turn out to be hiding deep secrets about the bookstore, while others are just plain dangerous in the way only geeks can be dangerous. When Purvis goes on tour and comes to town, the secrets and craziness collide as Thomas’s friends set out to destroy Purvis, and the novel quickly moves from the Nick Hornby section of the bookstore to the Joseph Heller and Chuck Palahniuk table.
Redekop manages to keep his own voice throughout the novel, while winking, nodding and even raising a beer every now and then to literary culture. He name-drops authors more than a fourth-year English student, and he makes some literary traditions his own, such as adopting the epistolary novel and turning it into an email exchange while Thomas is on the run from the authorities. Even this is a bit of a literary joke for Redekop, though, as the recipient of his emails is Eric McCormack, a real-life Canadian author. At least I think he’s a real-life Canadian author. I’ve never met him, and after reading Shelf Monkey I am beginning to wonder if he’s a clever construct on the part of Redekop to flesh out the book.
Shelf Monkey is a literary thriller but it’s also a fun romp – unless, presumably, you’re an Oprah fan. But if so, you’re not Redekop’s imagined audience. His ideal reader knows this book is blackly, blackly funny because it’s all too true.
Full disclosure: Redekop gave one of my novels a fine review at his site, but I would have liked this book just as much anyway.