In New World Monkeys, former advertising copywriter Nancy Mauro offers a debut novel that cannily and artfully shows the wild side of human nature.
Lily and Duncan are spending the summer in a small town upstate. On the drive into town, they hit a snag—specifically, they run over a wild boar with their car. And in the moment that sets the story spinning into motion, Lily puts the animal out of its misery with a tire iron. Unfortunately, the boar was the town’s mascot, and soon his owner seems to have the whole town in on his thirst for revenge. Then Duncan discovers a human femur in the backyard, which they discover may have belonged to Lily’s grandfather’s nanny.
All they have to do before the summer ends is dig up the dead nanny and hide their guilt in the death of the boar, thus avoiding the wrath of the eccentric residents of Osterhagen. Meanwhile, Lily works on her dissertation and Duncan, an ad man, dreams up a new campaign. All the while, the couple must navigate the next bend in their tired, chilly marriage.
Duncan may not be exactly what he seems. Underneath his urbane, Saab-driving exterior may lurk something nearly bestial. The academic Lily, for her part, has her own contradictions. Sure, she killed the boar when Duncan showed reticence to do so, but she also clings desperately to him at social gatherings. Duncan and Lily may not truly know each other’s depths and capabilities, and the events of the summer hold surprises for both.
And then there’s Lloyd, Lily’s fellow library patron and the local peeping tom with whom she, crazily enough, finds herself going on expeditions. As his thrill at seeing what people are really made of grows ever more frightening, it also becomes a mirror to show Lily parts of herself that she didn’t know existed.
With narration that sounds at times like the work of Zadie Smith, New World Monkeys weaves a funny and macabre tale. Its quirkiness and ingenuity should earn this novel a spot on many fall reading lists.
Jessica Inman writes and edits in Tulsa, Oklahoma.