The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd is, for more than 250 pages, one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. Our hero is a freshman at State, enrolled in art classes. He meets an older sassy wild card named Himillsy Dodd who is full of fun and big ideas. They spend time drinking, eating ice cream, drunk driving and talking about art. (Himillsy also has a very serious straight-laced, straight edge, non-cluttered boyfriend who rarely interrupts the flow of their friendship).
Second semester finds them taking a graphic design class from an unpredictable professor, who assigns projects like: Design a poster, so that upon seeing it, the viewer will feel strangely compelled either to start an action or cease one.
And here is the fun of this book. A project is assigned. The students discuss it. The students present it. Professor Sorbeck shreds it and someone leaves the classroom in tears. Another student presents to a similar end. This is a total kick, filled with fun dialogue and interesting ideas. Conversations between the main characters are littered with pun-filled sentences. They are totally wrangling for best fictitious duo.
[It’s fun to read about this sort of set up in an art classroom, rather than a classroom filled with writers, which seems to be a cliche of novels for obvious reasons. The art aspect gives it freshness. A recognizable concept, but in a different environment.:]
Unfortunately, no class lasts forever. And something’s gotta give.
I’m beginning to notice a trend in most of the fiction I read: Passive male character is swept up by a carefree sidekick. There is witty banter and quirky side stepping of polite society. Momentum builds. Things can’t stay like this forever. More heat. Whamo! An explosion that leaves everyone a little bruised. Life goes on in a new direction.
And it is usually at the explosion where the book falls apart for me. My favorite person in the whole world says that he only likes the first two-thirds of most movies; I’m starting to see that in the fiction I read. I mean no double entendre when I say: No one writes a good climax anymore.
Not even Chip Kidd.
His explosion is silly. Which is weird to say, because this book is pretty silly. But smart silly, not “rest your head on a baseball bat, spin in circles eight times and try to run to first base” silly, like the ending is.
On the other hand, in addition to the two-thirds theory of movies (and now books), I also have developed a Beavis and Butthead theory. In high school, I would watch an episode of B&B, find it funny enough. The next day during homeroom, my friend Tom would tell me about the same episode and I would laugh harder than when I was actually watching it. Something similar happened with this book: I went to sleep disappointed with the ending. Eight hours later, I was telling my favorite person in the world about the ending — he had already read it, but forgotten. He was laughing his face off. Hearing myself talk about the climax, I realized I hadn’t given it enough credit. This was golden.
So why didn’t it work when I was actually looking at the words? One of the great mysteries of fiction, I guess.