What constitutes the conscious brain? Is subjective love just a mishmash of dopamine and serotonin? What is human existence? Former politico, attorney, and screenwriter Carleton Eastlake’s first novel Monkey Business takes the reader on a wild ride in an attempt to answer these questions and more. This is a fevered dream of a tale; at times a love story, a philosophical treatise on the meaning of being human, a mystery to solve, and a savage expose of the film and television industry’s creative process in the early twenty-first century.
William Fox, a young screenwriter of thirty three (one of many cultural reference points and literary allusions that are spread throughout the novel) is consumed with love for Nicole Diver, who appears as a pole dancer he meets in Florida through the machinations of the alpha male producers of the cable television show employing him. However, Nicole is anything but a common stripper as she takes William on a journey of philosophical discovery that leads William to question, in the end, if she was ever there at all. William tries to unravel the mystery that is Nicole. Is she of this planet, is the strip club real or an elaborate set, or is Nicole an anthropologist writing a dissertation on human behavior?
William, consumed with an obsessive love for Nicole, struggles to keep his footing, while also trying to stay afloat professionally as the television show’s producers posture and conspire against each other for dominance over the storyline. Their goal seems to be less about product creation and more about maneuvering to avoid responsibility or claim credit, all while nourishing their egos. The production’s drama serves as a counterpoint to William’s love life as he strives to see through the curtains of deceit and fantasy to determine who and what is genuine, including himself. This philosophical question of the “hard problem of consciousness” forms the dominant theme of the novel. How do physical processes within the brain give rise to subjective experiences? Nicole, the mystery heroine, dives deep into an analysis of William’s experiences and ultimately leads him to a greater understanding of himself, his motivations, and his desires.
Eastlake’s experience as a screenwriter is evident as the dialog is taut and well-constructed. The plotlines drive the narrative and converge. The characters are well developed, and their arcs create tension and drama. The novel does tend to drag somewhat in places as Nicole’s true nature remains unsettlingly elusive. At the end of the day, however, while the best answer to the meaning of human existence remains forty-two, Monkey Business provides a thought-provoking exploration of other answers. It is well worth the read.
|Page Count||304 pages|
|Publisher||Red Hen Press|
|Bookshop.org||Buy this Book|