Triumph of the Spider Monkey

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Written as a series of monologues by a murderer on trial, monologues interrupted by courtroom scenes, memories, and real and, it seems, imaginary film shoots, The Triumph of the Spider Monkey is one of the most nontraditional books in writer Joyce Carol Oates’ body of work. The book, first published in 1974, had been re-released by Hard Case Crime, an imprint that prides itself on offering “the best in hard-boiled crime fiction.” While Oates is an exceptional and prolific writer known for psychologically terrifying novels, this early work is almost too fractured to function.

Bobbie Gotteson, the killer in question, recounts his troubling childhood, interactions with women, the murders he’s committed, and the sexual struggles he’s suffered. His narrative is disjointed, disturbing, and often nonsensical. While these choices are clearly meant to establish him as an unhinged young man, the level of layered scenes make the book hard to read.

After the title novella concludes, this edition offers another early Oates work titled “Love, Careless Love.” While it is a bit easier to follow than the prior piece, it lacks the punch of Spider Monkey’s prose. Because, though neither offering is wholly powerful, Oates knows how to turn a phrase and play with language so masterfully that parts of the book are absolutely stunning.

In the end, fans of crime fiction, nontraditional narratives, and Oates will probably find something of value in The Triumph of the Spider Monkey. Others, though, should probably skip this one.

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Star Count 3/5
Format Trade
Page Count 224 pages
Publisher Hard Case Crime
Publish Date 2019-07-16
ISBN 9781785656774 Buy this Book
Issue October 2019
Category Mystery, Crime, Thriller


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