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Review: 'Love Monkey' funny, revealing

By L.D. Meagher


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'Love Monkey'
  • By Kyle Smith
  • William Morrow
  • Fiction
  • 352 pages

    (CNN) -- Watch out, guys. Someone is spilling our secrets.

    Before you know it, women will be clued in to those idiosyncrasies that make us, well, guys. You know, like having Coco Puffs for dinner and double-booking dates. And there's only one person to blame -- Kyle Smith.

    His novel "Love Monkey" has been called a male version of "Sex and the City" and an American version of Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity." It is an achingly accurate depiction of a thirty-something single man.

    Smith's main character has a job he tolerates but does not respect. He has a mother he respects but finds hard to tolerate. He has friends who are turning into creatures from an alien realm before his very eyes. And he has eyes for that most alien of all creatures -- woman.

    The guy in question, Tom Farrell, works for a New York tabloid, making a comfortable living and aspiring to little else. He has seen the effects of unlimited wealth. One of his buddies has so much money he can devote almost all of his waking hours to the pursuit of sexual conquest. Another has attained a different kind of goal -- marriage and fatherhood. The older Tom gets, the less he understands them.

    He isn't getting any closer to comprehending women, either.

    To his credit, Tom does have a pretty good handle on himself. He recognizes his strengths (which are few) and his weaknesses (which are legion).

    "I don't have a girlfriend now," Smith writes as Tom. "I played the field and the field won. This makes me slightly suspect. What's wrong with me? Am I gay? (I wish: nonstop guiltless action, plus you get to be good looking and tasteful, and all you have to do is wear a condom, which I seem to end up doing most of the time anyway. A lot of vaguely intellectual feministy New York girls seem to think the Pill is a male plot to give them cancer or something, a conspiracy they discuss over cigarettes.) Am I unable to share my deep feelings? Do I lack any deep feelings in the first place? Am I just picky? Possibly. But at thirty-two it starts to hit you: there is a fine line between picky and loser."

    Then there is Julia, a hot little number who has just joined the paper. She and Tom spend play a sort of romantic keep-away game that consumes most of the novel.

    Even though he keeps his options open (with a law student, a TV producer and a German), Tom knows Julia is different. She could be The One.

    Smith has chosen to set the story in 2001. As a result, just as all the ingredients are reaching their most combustible point, "This" intervenes. "This," Smith tells us, is how New Yorkers refer to September 11 (as in, "This is going to change everything" or "Do you think they're planning more of This?").

    The attacks on the World Trade Center do, indeed, change everything. In particular, they change the context of Tom's world. After "This," girl trouble seems a lot less important.

    Despite that rather jarring transition, "Love Monkey" is an engaging romp through the mind of a single guy -- at times laugh-out-loud funny, at times endearingly touching. The first-time author, who edits music and book reviews for People magazine, understands the life his protagonist is leading and pulls no punches as he exposes the inner life of the 21st-century single guy.

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