The Monkey Tribe

by Michael J. Vaughn

iUniverse, Inc. (c)2009. 219 pgs. 988-1-4401-8901-2

A Review by Grace Cavalieri

Michael Vaughn is the Hunter Thompson of Silicon Valley. His latest novel takes place all around Santa Cruz and the magical places we loved before Prop 13. His protagonist, Jack, is out of work and out of luck but is somewhat of a metaphysical wit and hapless hero. He falls in with a life coach (Ben) who unbuttons the accountant in him and starts him on a ride that has to do with costumery, food, women, skipping stones in the water, pot, food, women, costumes and sex. All in a kind of Zen spin. Let me say, before you believe this is a swim suit calendar with punctuation, that Vaughn writes like an angel (ok a fallen angel in this one) and he is truly a wordcrafter. He’s a real novelist. He can create novels. This is because novelists have to know everything from the names of flowers, to music (his background is classical,) food (he is a gourmet cook,) finances (well, probably) and did I mention language? Every line is a punch line and there is not a side to popular culture that goes unnoticed. I can do without the sexual fantasies but that’s why I’m not a guy. If Philip Roth can do it, I guess it’s literature sometimes, but Oh My I had to close my eyes till it was over (and over and over.)

This is an action/erotic/adventure story starting in a coffee shop to a job house-sitting a multimillion dollar mansion, while in and out of the hot tub, But along the way there is a bad guy who gets his comeuppance and a good guy who gets the hottest girl, and a middle range guy who gets married on a horse.

When I think of critics, I always hope they will talk about what they read rather than what the author could have written. This is a big temptation because Michael Vaughn is one of the most talented writers on the scene and I keep wanting to jettison him out of the hip scene into ?—–I don’t know—he’s already written about opera—but something, say, that stays zipped up… I am a bit Victorian but I’m dictating again and not reviewing, “No offense.” And as a Vaughn character would say “None taken.” …well, it is page-turner even if we only want to find what costume will be worn next in what music orgy, in what weird wild wonderful house, cliff or beach.

The plot takes Jack through life coaching’s many steps to abandon his uptightness. His ex boss who sacrificed him to save his own skin in a financial scam is always lurking in the wings and showing up with new adultery partners. Jack has a winning naivety about him even when picking up the discarded mistresses for a revenge escapade. But that’s the appurtenance. The real journey is inward and Jack’s life coach, Ben, wishes him fully alive. Buddha said “May we be awake one minute before we die.” Jack is awakened big-time.

The gift of the novelist is detail and if ever a writer had the ability to know what to see in his mind’s eye, it is Vaughn. Also this author has obviously never, since childhood, stopped playing adventure games, dressups, and making castles in the sand. With this book, maybe, just maybe, they won’t be washed away.

Grace Cavalieri is a poet and playwright. She produces and founded “The Poet and the Poem” on public radio now celebrating its 33rd year on-air.