Short Story Review: Monkeys on the Beach by Ralph Robert Moore

Monkeys on the Beach by Ralph Robert Moore is a story about a vacation from hell. An American family goes on vacation to some Carribean island. The trip is supposed to serve as an opportunity for Don’s children to bond with his new wife. Right off the bat the family begins experiencing a series of unfortunate events. 

The father isn’t given much characterization beyond a certain passive unlikeability. Most of the sparse character development focuses on the stepmother’s relationship with the children. The stepmother seems to be making an honest go of trying to relate to the kids. She seems to have a genuine affection for the father who also shares a genuine affection for her. 

The vacation is ultimately ruined, to put it mildly, by a string of completely unrelated incidents. The incidents are about evenly split between situations where the characters could have acted more responsibly, and situations where the characters had absolutely no chance to mitigate things. 

I kept waiting for any of the events in the story to connect together into some kind of larger message or meaning, but the only thing I could glean was that this family had unbelievable (literally, it’s kind of stupid) bad luck. I found this story to be so utterly pointless and random that I actually wonder if I’m failing to understand something. 

I found this story in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year volume 11. I legitimately have no idea what Datlow saw in it. If the story is supposed to be funny, then it’s not very clear about that. If it’s supposed to just be an exercise in human misery, then it fails on an entirely different level. 

I’m going to delve into spoilers in this one and tell you the events that happen to the family and the order in which they happen. I would not recommend this story. I did not enjoy it at all, but if you want to give it a chance, stop reading here. 

It was a bloodbath
  1. The family is cited for wasting water as they wash their rental car while unaware that the nation they’re in is under drought restrictions. 
  2. The family goes to a restaurant where a loud man eventually has a waiter arrested for not opening a wine bottle correctly, I’m still very unclear what has happened here. 
  3. The child of the man who was arrested latches onto the family and stays with them, for some reason. He talks about pig juice, unclear what pig juice is. 
  4. While playing in the pool of their rented villa a soviet satellite crashes into the pool. The family is cited again for damage to the pool. 
  5. The family picnics on the beach where they are approached by monkeys. Despite the protestations of both adults, the daughter attempts to feed the monkeys by hand. One of them jumps on her head and rips her eyeball out. The family takes this, like, bizarrely well. They’re not immediately evacuated to a mainland hospital, they just clean out the kid’s eye socket, put a bandaid on it, and send her home. The father drinks.
  6. The stepmother attempts to save the son from a poisonous snake in the yard. She successfully does, and then, despite everyone being out of harm’s way, attempts to stomp said snake to death. The snake does what snakes do and bites her repeatedly, killing her instantly. 

That’s literally the end. None of these events are explained. None of these events are connected in any logical fashion. The family did not offend a mysterious old woman or purchase land that turned out to be an ancient burial ground. It’s just a series of absurdly terrible things happening to ordinary people. 

I’m not sure what this story is. Is it some sort of vague statement on the randomness of human misery? Is it some sort of vague statement on rich white people treating the islands like their personal beach? Is it just a half-finished stream of consciousness sketch of a story that got published? 

If anyone has read this story and would like to offer up an explanation of it, by all means, please leave a comment. I’m baffled at how this story came to be published, let alone published in a “Best of.” 

 

Ben

I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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