A talking primate takes up big-city living in Medvei’s slight but winsome debut.
Mr. Thundermug is, technically speaking, a baboon. He has a baboon wife and a pair of baboon children and a brick-red baboon behind. But he also has a house and a human girlfriend and a taste for the obituary section of the Evening News. Most curious of all, Mr. Thundermug has learned human speech. His ability to talk gets him into constant trouble: Quite clearly not a man, but something more than an average animal, Thundermug is caught between two worlds, which makes him an ideal straight man for the purposes of Medvei’s satire. Thundermug gets sick and tries to go to the hospital but finds himself bounced between doctors and veterinarians. He takes a condemned house and clears it of cockroaches, only to learn that in order to stay he must send his offspring to school. Informed by the City Council that he must have a permit in order to keep monkeys at home (never mind that they’re his children), the closest equivalent he’s able to find is a dog license. Again and again, his attempts to blend into society are stymied by his human interlocutors’ desire to define, distinguish, categorize and confine. That people can be close-minded, troubled by or blind to new distinctions is not a terribly novel observation, and as satire this novella is neither particularly original nor cutting. It charms, however, as a simple story, quietly but beautifully written. Thundermug himself comes off as a rich, fully developed fellow (despite being a talking baboon), and Medvei’s descriptions of the unnamed city have a spare loveliness that lends his work the power of myth. No doubt the author wrote with a statement of sorts in mind, but readers will be best off just enjoying his tale.
Wonderfully inventive and winningly modest.