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Understanding Love in Infant Monkeys

Updated on July 11, 2016

Pulitzer Finalist is a Winner

Author Lydia Millet's collection of 10 short stories makes up the book, Love in Infant Monkeys. The book, published in 2009, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. What can you expect from this book that wasn't good enough to win the Pulitzer?

Expect to read something familiar. At least one of the names in this collection of short stories should be familiar to most readers -- Madonna, Thomas Edison, Jimmy Carter, and an unnamed dog walker to the rich and famous (such as David Hasselhoff) are all people we know something about.

Expect to read something strange and unfamiliar. Does Hoff seem like a weenie dog man, or Madonna like a hunter? This book challenges what you thought you knew about every main character in the book. The challenge: separating fact from fiction.

Fact or Fiction?

That's the question when you read Love in Infant Monkeys.Each story aligns so closely with facts that we know about the main characters, that it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction. Readers must keep reminding themselves that the short stories are classified as fiction; otherwise, they read like juicy tabloid gossip entrusted only to an inner circle. When reading this book, keep a search engine open and do some key word searches to help you determine what is real and what is not.

Us kids of the 1980s remember Madonna more like this than dressed in hunting garb.
Us kids of the 1980s remember Madonna more like this than dressed in hunting garb.

Sexing the Pheasant

Sexing the Pheasant, the first story in the book, focuses on pop sensation Madonna who is hunting pheasant on her property along with her husband and his friends. She is only accustomed to shooting the clay pigeons during target practice so Madonna is shocked by the death of the bird. This short story helps the reader see the thought process in the pop star's mind as the bird lay dying at her feet.

Girl & Giraffe

Girl and Giraffe tells the story of a traveler who meets George Adamson, whose wife Joy wrote Born Free. The traveler makes some assessments about Adamson, a man he has idolized ever since seeing Born Free in movie theaters back in the late 1960s.

Sir Henry

In this story, an unnamed dog walker cares more about the dogs he walks than the clients who pay him to do so. He has a great respect for animals, but less respect for humans who make no time to spend with them. He is faced with a decision that will require him to break his own code of ethics, but for the betterment of a dog. What will he do?

Hasselhoff video features dachshund cameos!

Thomas Alva Edison
Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Edison and Vasil Golakov

Some scholars explore the sexuality of Edison and propose it could be the reason he fired his assistant, Golakov. The author proposes something else for the reason for dismissal -- lack of loyalty. Golakov insisted Edison was talking to a dead elephant, and had given that elephant savior-like qualities. After reading, make some time to do check some search engines for Topsy the Elephant, the names of the scholars, and the assistant. It's amazing the way the author wove truth into fiction, or is it fiction into truth?

Tesla and Wife

The brilliant man who harnessed alternating current was in love with his soul mate. You'll be surprised to know who it was and how which aspects of this story are actually true. I'm not giving away anything else.

Love in Infant Monkeys

The book takes its title after this short story, a look into the life of Harry Harlow, a psychologist who studied the impact of separation of infant monkeys from their mothers. Harlow's research was important because it came at a time when parenting authorities advocated less coddling of children.

Chomsky, Rodents

American dissident and noted linguist Noam Chomsky is in the dump trying to give away a gerbil condo. It sounds crazier than enlightening, but the story makes the reader think about our ideas of perfection and some common stereotypes, too.

Jimmy Carter's Rabbit

Former President Jimmy Carter stops by to visit an old friend who happens to be a psychologist. Certain that he is there for treatment, the psychologist does not give up on the notion that Carter's visit centers around a swamp rabbit attack that happened when Carter was president. This is a great story about denial.

The Lady and the Dragon

A billionaire who wants to catch the attention of actress Sharon Stone buys a Komodo dragon to impress her. The twists in this story prove that looks can be deceiving and don't matter much in the end.


Common Themes

Animals remain a theme in each story of the book. Each story also deals with respect of animals and how they affect the people in their lives.

Fact versus fiction is another common theme. Each story has a factual basis, some bigger than others. The important thing to remember is that these stories are fictionalized. One of the most interesting aspects of reading this book is discovering where and how the author draws the fine line between fact and fiction in each story.

What do you think?

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