TRIALS OF THE MONKEY: An Accidental Memoir

Matthew Chapman, Author
Matthew Chapman, Author . Picador $25 (367p) ISBN 978-0-312-28357-5
Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
Hardcover - 337 pages - 978-0-7156-3002-0
Paperback - 388 pages - 978-0-312-30078-4
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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.)

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