Augello (The Revolving Heart) has crafted a sweet, funny character study centered around a fiery animal-rights polemic. Kevin is a struggling independent filmmaker working with a motley assortment of volunteers and friends, including his sometimes-lover Veronica. In the middle of filming a scene, his estranged actor father shows up with a capuchin monkey and a concealed gun, and the shenanigans only get wilder from there, as Kevin learns that his father has married a much younger woman, and that the monkey has been rescued from cruel experiments at a lab. Kevin’s life is amusingly complicated: he’s trying to impregnate his sister-in-law at her request, must deal with the FBI investigating the stolen monkey, all while coming to grips with his own dawning consciousness regarding animal rights.
The tone veers wildly from impassioned lectures to madcap comedy—a road trip with his father as part of an FBI operation goes in surprising directions, including a hilarious extended cameo from a real-world actor—to sincere examination of complicated, flawed characters. It holds together, though, thanks to brisk pacing and Augello’s total commitment to each character's narrative, no matter how absurd. A subplot in which a priest directs Veronica to help out a woman with a mental illness might feel tacked on, but it’s funny. Augello incorporates arguments about animal rights without much nuance, but the novel's great strength is that the philosophical points come from characters who feel like fully formed people rather than rhetorical devices—and that the dialogue is sharp.
Augello's passion for diving into the feelings of all species gives this wild story much heart and wit. Readers interested in animal rights issues will respond to Augello's in-your-face arguments he tells through his characters, but this is also a crisply written, sometimes hilarious novel whose heart, ultimately, is in the relationship between an absent father and his estranged son.
Takeaway: Madcap and accomplished, this comic novel boasts big surprises, heartfelt characters, and a passion for animal rights.
Great for fans of: Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Nick Sage’s It’s a Cow’s World.
Production grades Cover: B Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: B
"Augello has a natural ability to balance heavy themes with humor." -Jessica Purgett, The Mark Literary Review
"A promising new literary voice." -Kirkus Reviews
A frustrated filmmaker tries to help his actor father save a monkey in this comic novel.
New Jersey, 1999. Would-be auteur Kevin Stacey is directing what he hopes will be his breakout independent feature, but things are going poorly. His crew is cranky; his actors are difficult; his budget is gone; and he’s starting to think he should have gone to law school. Things only get worse when his semiestranged father, Edward Stacey (stage name: Brian Edwards), shows up in a raincoat with a thick roll of cash, a handgun, and a capuchin monkey named Henry. Edward is a perennial extra with over 600 Hollywood films on his resume. “Name a film and my father was probably in it,” Kevin explains, “though only for a second, his face and body somewhere in the background, in the crowd, in the forgotten patches of the screen where the audience never looks.” It turns out Henry was recently freed from a research lab and the FBI is anxious to find him—and whomever liberated him. His heart softened by tales of animal cruelty, Kevin agrees to help his father find a safe home for Henry, though the task will encompass a cross-country road trip and suck in the director’s best friend and occasional lover, Veronica Merrin; his lawyer brother, Mike; and a movie-loving priest named Father Blank. Augello’s prose is sharp and funny, and he has a knack for imbuing ridiculous situations involving Kevin with psychological veracity: “My father sings in the shower, that strange song ‘MacArthur Park’ with its oddball lyrics about cake left in the rain. It’s a longsong—he’s been in the shower for nearly ten minutes—yet Henry is enthralled. He sits outside the cracked bathroom door listening to my father croon.” The novel leaps around in time and point of view, which will help keep readers on their toes despite the fairly predictable plot. The story is a love letter to the movies—a very ’90s one at that—as well as a ’90s commentary on the treatment of lab animals. But at its best, the book is a sweet rumination on the relationships between difficult fathers and their sons.
A funny and thoroughly satisfying farce involving cinema and an escaped monkey.