Friday, October 30, 2009

Blogging the Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction: Soft Monkey

It has been quiet around here for a while, mainly because I have been busy reading James Ellroy and Flannery O'Connor. They're two very demanding, but very different, writers who've taken up a lot of my time and energy. (Especially Ellroy. I've been plugging away at Blood's a Rover for a while now, and I'm not sure I'm getting anywhere.)

Nevertheless, I found time to read the next story in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction. I've read Harlan Ellison's "Soft Monkey" before, but I'm not sure where. I vividly remember it, and I remember it's preface about scientists who found that orangutans who are greiving the loss of a child will cling to a soft doll, and treat it as if it were alive.

The preface wouldn't be all that problematic if the main character of "Soft Monkey" weren't a mentally ill, homeless black woman. I don't attribute any racist intent to Ellison, but there's a rather long, disturbing history of comparing black people to apes that he should have been aware of or acknowledged. The only racist thoughts are in the characters who are trying to kill Annie, the protagonist, a woman who has had a psychotic break after losing an infant child. Annie is targeted for death after witnessing a mob hit, but there's something about this story that still kind of rubs me the wrong way. I'm not sure what it's getting at. I suspect Ellison was trying to get at the bond between mother and child and animal and beast, but I think he might have found a better way to get at it.


Dan_Luft said...

I recently found about half a dozen, reasonably-priced Black Lizards, Jim Thompson, Dan Marlowe, Peter Rabe at al. I've been collecting them for over a decade. It hit me that the Black Lizards are as old now as the Gold Medals were when the Black Lizards were new.

Small print but great writers that got re-established for younger guys like me.

sandra seamans said...

Hmmm, I loved this story. I saw it as a mother finally able to save her child. Something she couldn't do in real life. I didn't see race and animal, just a mother's struggle to keep her child safe. Something every parent fights for.