March 2, 2006

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Utterly Monkey, by Nick Laird (Harper Collins, 2005)

Utterly Monkey is about an early-career professional, late 20s-early 30s, who drinks too much, is unsuccessful at relationships, unhappy with work and wonders why heís not happy. In other words, itís about me and the hundreds of thousands of men like me out there in the world.

Utterly Monkey is also a book that I liked, but wanted to like more. Itís author, Nick Laird, is an Irish poet who married an American novelist (Zadie Smith) and decided that he should be writing fiction too. And heís right, because at times his debut novel is a solid read. At other times, not so much.

UM covers a few weeks in the life of Danny Williams, a Belfast boy who goes to school and gets a job as a lawyer in London, leaving his roughish past behind. Or so he thinks. Then Geordie Wilson, a chum from his old neighborhood, shows up looking for a place to crash. The fact that Geordie is on the run from a criminal that he stole $50,000 from enters the plot soon after. A half-hearted fistfight notwithstanding,

Danny agrees to help Geordie out, with mixed results.

Laird was a lawyer, so Iím sure much of his tale was based on something that happened to him. However, the story is chock full of cliches, including a love scene that seems to borrow heavily from the movie Office Space.

The saving grace of Utterly Monkey is Lairdís voice, which is witty and reluctant and tired and slightly embarrassed, much like the main character. UM is worth a read but it will be more interesting to see what Laird comes up with next.

C+

ó Robert Greene

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