Bitter, Sour, Cynical, but Having Perhaps Some Redeeming Qualities

Photo by Mary Crain
I was invited to speak at a meeting last Monday of the book group at the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. Or, no, make that the active voice: Karen Carson, the charming Broadcast and Volunteer Coordinator and a writer herself, invited me to speak. She wanted to discuss The Jersey Monkey, my (unknown to her) despised stepchild, the last book in the Nick Magaracz series, which came out from St. Martin's Press in 1992.

I wasn't going to say, "Whatever for? I hate that book," because fame is a good thing, right? Exposure is a good thing. It was very decent of them to invite me to their meeting at all. The librarians went to the trouble of recording the whole book on tape, so that the book club members could experience it. I personally had not cracked that book in twenty years, mostly for fear of encountering the earlier Kate, that bitter, shriveled cynic. The Jersey Monkey is a bitter little book.

So we met, some on speakerphone, some sitting around the table, turning their smiling faces toward me like flowers. They found the book to be full of unexpected twists. They were surprised that one of the doctors in the pharmaceutical house had put herself through school by stripping. In the old hippie days I knew more than one woman who was putting herself through school by stripping. I didn't tell them that, because they were finding lots of things to like about my hated book, and I didn't want to interrupt them.

They liked the ending, the dailiness of it, Nick's relationship with his wife. They liked the picture of old Trenton. That book is a historical now, you know that? It has people in it who remember the Monkey House.

The corporate executives in my fictional pharmaceutical company were getting all set to move a teratogenic drug to third world countries, because they could make money doing this and Africans wouldn't have the power to sue the company when the birth defects began to show up. The blind readers found this horrifying and scarcely credible. They still trust the rich and powerful to be human beings who care what happens to other human beings. Beautiful souls. I could weep.

They liked my book. They gave my book back to me, so that I don't feel bad about it anymore. Soon I'll put up digital copies on Kindle and Nook. Anyone who wants a bitter, shriveled view of Trenton and Princeton in the early nineties will be able to see it for $2.99.

Kate Gallison