The Cheese Monkeys, by Chip KiddPosted: May 7, 2003 at 1:21 am in fiction
Subtitled “A Novel in Two Semesters”, this book tells the story of a freshman arriving at college in 1958 with no real idea of what he wants to do, and his introduction to the world of art. Chip Kidd is apparently a graphic designer of some renown (according to one cover blurb, “Chip Kidd altered the face of publishing with his revolutionary book jackets”), but this is his first novel. Some of the most interesting sequences occur in the second semester of the book, where our protagonist is taking a graphic design class from a decidedly unorthodox teacher, who, one would assume, is the teacher that Kidd wished he had. I picked it up completely at random from the new books section of the library because it had a striking cover, and I’m glad I did.
I really liked reading this – I ended up finishing it in a morning, partially because it was due back at the library soon, but also because it was just fun to read. There are several entertaining quirky characters involved in improbable situations. Plus there’s some meditations on what it means to be an artist, and how to get your message across, which is self-referential to Kidd trying to get his own ideas across here, of course. And I really like the tone of the book, which is best demonstrated by including an excerpt here, for which I’ll probably get sued, but what the heck.
Two days later, we were on our way to the Hutzle Union building to renew Mills’s campus parking sticker when suddenly she chirped, “Hey! It’s the Happy-Clappies! Let’s go give ’em a spark.”
As you’ve no doubt deduced by now, Miss Dodd had a rather thorny view of religion, which was best summed up by the fact that she got thrown out of vacation Bible school at age eleven for making a St. Sebastian toothpick holder in Crafts.
Every now and then, walking past Old Main, one would spot the Campus Crusaders, a flock of prematurely Redeemed Souls who felt it wasn’t enough that God was your Crater, he also had to be your Pal.
“Look at them. It’s illegal to be that happy.”
A chunky girl in a red plaid skirt who appeared to be completely normal casually walked up to Himillsy and asked, just a little too loudly, “Did you know that Jesus loves you?” She handed us a pamphlet with a cartoon drawing on the front of the crucified Savior, bleeding like new dungarees in the wash. He looked ecstatic, as if he’d just won the Lottery. Hims took it and used it to fan herself, even though it was just below freezing.
“Of course, dear, and we’re just dying to get married, but Mummy is dead set against it.” Hims leaned into her, very conspiratorial, “He’s N.O.K.D., and if we elope she’ll cut us off.”
Our little Merry Magdalene didn’t seem to understand. She turned to me, on to her next mission, and said, now a tad unsure of herself, “God loves you too.”
“Obviously,” I said. “I’m white, I have a penis, and fabulous taste.”
Himillsy’s surprise had just the right note of archness. “Darling! A penis? Really! Why didn’t you tell me? Whose is it?”
“Not sure. I haven’t opened it yet.”
“Oh come, let’s do!” she said, taking my arm. “You must really rate! All I got was a slash that smells like carp and leaks blood every month!” She winked at the girl – whose face was as blank as her checks to the Church.
We skipped away, arm in arm. Hims looked back to the group, right before we made the corner, and shouted, “Praise Him!”