Title: The Organ Grinder and the Monkey
Author: Sam Moffie
Genre: Fiction/Literature – Contemporary
Point of Sale: www.amazon.com
For a typical converging lives story, I do have to say that I actually liked it. I liked its honesty, its complexity, and its blunt philosophy. The language is vulgar and abrupt; there are some imaginative boundary pushing scenarios to mull over; the worldview is rather dark and gritty; and the triangulation of the three therapeutic philosophies is very amusing – serious – but not overbearing. There is a lot of good stuff in this story. What I didn’t like about the book was its lack of technical finesse.
The first half of the book is nothing but straight narrative as we get all the down and dirty background information on our three characters: Seymore, Irving, and Constance. Yes, the entire first half of the book is background. We get a lot more background than we actually need and in some cases background that really isn’t all that relevant and offers no additional depth to the characters or the plotline. The characters’ hometowns were thoroughly profiled down to every broken window, racial slur, and sporting event, but I felt lost in the minutia after a while. It felt repetitive, and it really slowed the pacing for me. The narrative moves forward and backward rather erratically, and it is often interrupted by informational vs. interactive dialog. The problem with this is that the narrator’s voice is so pronounced that all the one-off one-liners end up sounding the same. There is so much out of context he said she said that the distinguishing idiosyncrasies of the characters became so blurred with the narrator that I couldn’t really appreciate them or really feel them as psychological beings, and that is a shame since their psychological worldview is the thrust of the story.
As far as the characters go, we have some standard archetypes: Seymore, victim number one, is the product of a broken home, bitter parents, an eccentric father, and an old-fashioned curmudgeon of a grandfather. Seymore is slight of temperament, studious and withdrawn, and is traumatized and invariably haunted by his father’s death, which is graphic and definitely over the top – Bravo to that! Lastly, Seymore wants nothing more than to escape the shit-hole town he was born in, move to NYC, and become a veterinarian – he becomes a killer instead. Then we have Irving, victim number two. Irving is product of radical liberal parents, who happen to have died in a tragic car accident. Irving is a classic co-dependent, all around good guy, actually wants to be the good guy, and has developed an unnatural fixation for conspiracy theories. Irving also wants to move to NYC and become a police officer – go figure. And lastly, we have Constance, victim number three. Constance is the product of single parent home. Her father died after losing the family fortune gambling. Her mother is the stereotypical waitress, and Constance is a bit of a control freak and nasty kinky in bed – Brava to that! She wants to move to NYC and become a Rockette and predictably ends up dancing in a strip club. All the characters come from similar degenerative towns, and they all share the same therapist – who is vague, barely mentioned, and who really has no relevance to the story except as the butt of offhanded callous remarks.
The plot is typical for this type of story, filled with life’s ups, downs, and enemas, and it doesn’t actually exist until midway through. If it weren’t for the chastising dark humour, I would have given up after chapter 5. I kept on reading because of the story’s angle, which attempts to compare the therapeutic philosophies of the three characters: Seymore and his traditional therapist. Irving and Al-Anon, and Constance, who doesn’t suppress her desire to see everyone and everything be given an enema from the almighty. I can sympathize. During the reading of the story, one is supposed to see the differences within the three, but again, this is an area where I felt the detail and depth was lacking. If you have prior knowledge in the science of psychology, then the underlying theorem will be apparent: all people are affected and the only way to get on with it is to confront the issues, confront the shadows, focus on what we can change, and let everything else go. Focus on the inner self, if you will. Both conventional therapy and Al-Anon work much the same way, as does an enema. The funny bit for me was, each of the therapeutic philosophies had exactly the same effect. Each in their own way, all three characters managed to detach, better themselves, and fulfil a need. I suppose that is the irony of personal therapy; it’s all a matter of interpretation.
Overall, I really think the author had something pretty damn fantastic here, not the story per say, but the angle. We have all seen the convergent lives story: the killer, the tormented cop, and the seductive damsel. Unfortunately, the narrative itself was a deterrent to the writing. The third person narrative just got in the way. I think if the narrative had been in first-person with shifting points of view then we really could have gotten a better feel for the three characters. Their personas and their subconscious pathologies would have been more palpable. Even the use of italics didn’t help, as the narrative in those sections was not appreciably different from the rest of the book, which it should have been for 40+ pages of italics. I wanted to feel Seymore, know him like we knew Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or the narrator in Fight Club, but we don’t. Same with Irving and Constance, we just don’t get that depth with such a detached narrative. I would have liked to have seen more internal exposition.
This story could have easily been a 10 for me if it weren’t for the technical issues, the serious grammatical issues, and the narrative issues. It had everything I like: psychological story, socio-political commentary, sarcasm, satire, strong characters, gritty language, darkly comedic world-view, and some nasty boundary-crossing skin-chilling scenes. With a professional editor, I think this story could be reworked into something quite spectacular and would be on par with others in the same vein like “American Psycho” or "Fight Club." As it stands now I have to give it a 6. The detached overbearing narrative voice and the one-dimensional textbook characters just didn’t work for me as well as they could have.