When I Set Myself on Fire by W.W. Singer

When I Set Myself on Fire

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A university lawyer takes care of a monkey with humanlike tendencies in this debut novel.

Attorney Jim Drewry is in charge of monitoring a university study in which researchers are splicing human DNA with monkeys’ to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. When a student involved in the study objects to the animals’ treatment, she opts to abandon it, and she leaves one of the genetically altered monkeys, named Eve, in Jim’s care. He’s initially reluctant to keep the animal, but then he begins to recognize what an extraordinary creature Eve is. She cries in a way that seems to convey emotional distress, a uniquely human expression, and her behavior makes Jim believe that she’s on some kind of “spiritual journey.” His son, Buck, and wife, Grace, take to Eve as well, treating her like an odd combination of pet and family member. As Jim interacts with the monkey, he also deals with the recent death of his son Thomas and goes on a troubling emotional quest. He begins to believe in alternate universes and questions whether it’s in humanity’s nature to seek spiritual knowledge. Although his preacher friend, Barry, attempts to help him, he seems overwhelmed by questions. During his moments of déjà vu, he worries that events are actually repeating themselves or that they’re occurring in other universes. (It doesn’t help that Jim is less-than-meticulous about taking his medication for mental problems.) It’s a lot for readers to take in, but Singer is a deft storyteller who engages with thorny religious and scientific questions while also crafting memorable characters. Some of Singer’s gambles don’t pay off completely—such as when he revisits past scenes in order to disorient readers or intersperses quasi-historical retellings of Jesus’ time on Earth—but their bravery is admirable, nonetheless. The disjointed narrative is likely to alienate some readers, especially near the end, when it’s increasingly difficult to know what’s actually happening and what’s a product of Jim’s imagination. Others, however, may enjoy Singer’s bold moves.

A surreal, sometimes-difficult narrative that will reward patient readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0692342435
Page count: 218pp
Publisher: Cactus Jack Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2015


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