Trials of the Monkey
An Accidental Memoir
By Matthew Chapman
Picador, Hardcover, 9780312283575, 352pp.
Publication Date: September 1, 2001
List Price: $25.00*
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"When Darwin called his second book The Descent of Man instead of The Ascent of Man he was thinking of his progeny."
So declares Darwin's great-great grandson Matthew Chapman as he leaves behind his stressful career as a Hollywood screenwriter and travels to Dayton, Tennessee where in 1925 creationist opposition to the teaching of evolution in schools was played out in a famous legal drama, the Scopes Trial.
The purpose of this journey is to see if opinions have changed in the seventy- five intervening years. A defiant atheist, Chapman is confronted not only by the fundamentalist beliefs that continue to banish the theory of evolution but by his own spiritual malaise as the outward journey becomes an inward quest, a tragicomic "accidental memoir".
"First there was Charles Darwin, two yards long and nobody's fool. Then there was his son, my great-grandfather, Sir Francis Darwin, an eminent botanist. Then came my grandmother Frances, a modest poet who spent a considerable amount of time in rest-homes for depression From her issued my beloved mother, Clare, who was extremely short, failed to complete medical school, and eventually became an alcoholic. Then we get down to me. I'm in the movie business."
Trials of the Monkey combines travel writing and reportage, as Chapman records his encounters in the South, with history and the accidental memoir of a man full of mid-life doubts in a genre-breaking first book that is darkly funny, provocative and poignant.
Matthew Chapman was born in Cambridge, England and is the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. He has written and directed five films, and lived for many years in Los Angeles. A Hollywood screenwriter he now lives in Manhattan. Trials of the Monkey is his first book.
"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
“Hugely entertaining...While Chapman can be as funny and revealing as either [Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux] in the travel sections of his book, the autobiographical element plumbs greater depths.”—Tony Gould, The Spectator
“A clever, provocative and very entertaining hotchpotch of confession and redneck theology, a genre all his own.”—Patrick Skene Catling, The Irish Times
"...an absorbing and finely honed journal of courageous, often amusing self-awareness..." --Publishers Weekly