Trials of the Monkey
An Accidental Memoir
By Matthew Chapman
(Picador, Paperback, 9780312300784, 384pp.)
Publication Date: July 2002
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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 Monkey 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.
"Travel essay, family memoir, or social history . . . its uncertainty is part of its charm . . . His descriptions recall Kingsley Amis at his best . . . Chapman's account of his family's ingrained melancholy, martial betrayals, and tragic decline is graceful and funny."—The Boston Globe
"Compulsively readable, surprisingly touching, and often downright funny."—Jonathan Miles, The New York Times Book Review
"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
"A humorous, even funny, memoir of 'de-evolution.' In his insightful, confessional, and intimately human voice, Matthew Chapman reads like he's right there talking to you. My kind of book."—Spalding Gray
"As the monkey of the title, Mr. Chapman tells the story of a family tree 'hopping with regression' . . . A valuable, painfully honest memoir of what it means to be British in the past half century."—The Wall Street Journal
"Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir is candid, confessional, raunchy, and learned—not four words usually used in the same sentence to describe a work of nonfiction. It is certain to offend some readers, while other readers are just as certain to laugh out loud with glee . . . It is not only an accidental memoir, as the subtitle says. it is also an accidental classic."—The Kansas City Star