“Travel essay, family memoir, or social history . . . its uncertainty is part of its charm . . . His descriptions recall Kingsley Amis at his best . . . Chapman's account of his family's ingrained melancholy, martial betrayals, and tragic decline is graceful and funny.” The Boston Globe
“Compulsively readable, surprisingly touching, and often downright funny.” Jonathan Miles, The New York Times Book Review
“Funny, irreverent, profound, moving, instructive, and entertaining. How I wish that I had written this book.” Peter Coyote,author of Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle
“This book is not just a sneer at freak-show America. Chapman is too aware of his own foibles and failures to curl his lip . . . Hilarious . . . uncomfortable . . . it's also life-affirming, even if life as lived by Chapman is often damnably itchy.” Nigel Richardson, The Daily Telegraph
“A humorous, even funny, memoir of 'de-evolution.' In his insightful, confessional, and intimately human voice, Matthew Chapman reads like he's right there talking to you. My kind of book.” Spalding Gray
“As the monkey of the title, Mr. Chapman tells the story of a family tree 'hopping with regression' . . . A valuable, painfully honest memoir of what it means to be British in the past half century.” The Wall Street Journal
“Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir is candid, confessional, raunchy, and learned--not four words usually used in the same sentence to describe a work of nonfiction. It is certain to offend some readers, while other readers are just as certain to laugh out loud with glee . . . It is not only an accidental memoir, as the subtitle says. it is also an accidental classic.” The Kansas City Star
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
A successful screenwriter with a lucrative income and a lifestyle to match, Matthew Chapman found himself in the middle of a midlife crisis in his late 40s. The great-great-grandson of the famed scientist Charles Darwin, Chapman decided to reclaim his integrity by writing a book. The subject matter of the book "was not an arbitrary choice" -- it was to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Scopes "Monkey" trial, "the trial of a schoolteacher accused of teaching evolution in defiance of Tennessee law."
Chapman contracts with his publisher to travel from his home in New York to the Bible Belt of Dayton, Tennessee, the celebrated small town where the trial took place, and to observe the town's annual theatrical event: the reenactment of the trial itself. But what the author failed to take into account when he set out on this journey was that "I was on the verge of my own crisis, spiritual and otherwise." While compiling his research on the trial, Chapman reflects back on his life, and "another book, a book within a book, began to form, an accidental memoir." As Chapman's humorous narrative details the "philosophical skirmish between religion and reason," he comes to the realization that "I had fallen off the rails. Perhaps this other book would help me climb back on." And indeed, it does. (Fall 2001 Selection)
A screenwriter and the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, Chapman heads to Dayton, Tenn., the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. As a longstanding atheist, he intends to write a sardonic cultural update of Southern Fundamentalist Christianity. But to his surprise, and the reader's delight, the book takes on a power of its own. This first-time author has written an honest, ironic autobiography that traces the development of a boyish wise guy into a complex man of letters. In an account that stands in favorable comparison to the best examples of eccentric English autobiography, such as the work of Robert Graves and Anthony Burgess, Chapman weaves the story of his life of advantage and distinguished intellectual pedigree in England, New York City and Hollywood with a travelogue into an unknown realm, misperceived to be inhabited by hillbillies. The incongruous encounters and anecdotes, moving between past and present, meld into an insightful study of a man trying to make sense of it all. Stories from the author's rebellious youth, unconventional family constellation and contemporary life are juxtaposed with images of caustic trends in modern society and Southern idiosyncrasies. The result is an absorbing and finely honed journal of courageous, often amusing self-awareness which moves from a posture of extreme skepticism regarding the possibility of the divine to a more open-minded, appreciative stance regarding the possible sacred meaning(s) of life. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This first book by a successful screenwriter is an odd but fascinating mix of history, science, religion, travel, and memoir, combining Chapman's heritage as the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, his interest in the Scopes "monkey" trial, and his "accidental" autobiography. Amazingly, he succeeds in the effort to convey the creation of a writer (himself) and his family as well as the world of creationism. The book alternates between autobiographical chapters and chapters covering trips Chapman made to Dayton, TN, site of the Scopes trial, prior to and following its annual reenactment. The people he encounters in Tennessee provide rich material for Chapman's examination of evolution and how the trial affected the original participants and, via fundamentalism, continues to influence people's lives. Despite a few sloppy geographical errors (Roanoke is in Virginia, not West Virginia), the writing is excellent, the story poignant, and the message complex. Recommended for larger collections in public and academic libraries. Michael D. Cramer, Raleigh, NC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Chapman, a Britisher now living in the US, earns big bucks authoring screenplays. Now, as a great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, it's appropriate that he use his writerly skills to report on current doings in Dayton, Tennessee, scene of the Scopes trial three-quarters of a century ago. One might expect, on first looking into Chapman's homage, that his text would be concerned chiefly with the notorious courtroom battle between the dark forces of evolution theory and the effulgent powers of creationist fundamentalism. The drama of the case and the Bryan-Darrow duel are depicted adequately, to be sure, but that's been done before. Here, though, the trial is merely the hook upon which Chapman hangs his own coming-of-age yarn in a book that's largely about the evolution of particular Darwinian progeny. It's the story of Chapman's parents-his cool, clever father and his alcoholic, promiscuous mother-and it's also his own story. As any proper nostalgic Englishman must, Chapman describes his schooldays, complete with canings and nasty masters. He includes his vicissitudes as bibulous voyeur and eczema sufferer, as well as his chronic horniness. The result is solipsism run rampant and immoderately readable, particularly when the self-absorbed author takes us through the wilds of East Tennessee with his entertaining tale of an atheist among the Bible-thumpers. He sasses the hicks as if invested with the extravagant arrogance of H.L. Mencken (who was, of course, the premier reporter of the trial); for the bulk of his story, he just can't suppress his supercilious sneer. And yet there is, ultimately, an unexpected respect for the rednecks, who treat him with puzzled respect and native courtesy."If I went down an atheist," he finally writes, "I came back an agnostic"-like Charles Darwin. Caustic social history and, undiminished by a sentimental finale, a flamboyant autobiography by a trenchant talent. Author tour; radio satellite tour