Reviewed by Frank Pizzoli
Finally! A story about animal rights that informs and entertains rather than preaches
Award-winning writer Chuck Augello in his literary fiction A Better Heart presents the sensitive topic of animal rights in a way no reader has to flinch. No matter where you stand on this issue, aspects of this comic family adventure—featuring a father, two sons, and a capuchin monkey—is sure to grab your readerly attention.
The five-part story takes place between 1999 and 2003. The novel opens with indie filmmaker Kevin Stacey laboring on the set of Exit 23. By the bottom of the first page, I’d already laughed several times. Maybe Kevin should have gone to law school like his brother Mike. Although there is nothing funny about the plight of animals as presented by Augello in this novel, he does have a way of keeping the scenes nice and humorous alongside the important issue.
When Kevin’s estranged father Edward shows up unannounced, he brings a gun, cash, and a capuchin monkey named Henry along with him.
A failed Hollywood actor with the stage name Brian Edwards, Kevin’s father holds the Guinness World Record for most appearances in a motion picture with over 623 credits to his name, excluding his multiple roles in Mexican horror flicks under the name “George Gringo.” His actor’s resume reads like “the ubiquitous Extra” with only one five-word speaking role.
This adventure with his sons and Henry may be his biggest part yet.
His father’s arrival incites a journey of a lifetime for Kevin. For a father who has just come back into his life, it takes some guts (and probably some growth, too) for him to return with a stolen monkey, asking for his help.
His lawyer-brother Mike gets involved in helping determine whether or not his father’s handgun is registered. That’s when they learn that Henry may be one of seven monkeys that were taken by animal rights activists from a Utah lab. Their goal becomes to get this monkey to safety.
By the end of Part I, the journey has begun in earnest with the element of law enforcement surveillance. The FBI and the US Attorney’s Office are never far away. In Part II, Kevin’s best friend and occasional lover Veronica begins her own journey upon meeting up with an eccentric Catholic priest named Father Anton Blank.
This novel is fun and features a quirky adventure with a lovable primate, but Henry isn’t the only one capturing our attention. The ongoing references to Hollywood films and television shows provide context and help define the relationships and experiences among the growing characters.
In a novel of family drama and adventure, Augello manages to successfully address the connection of humans and non-humans, as well as to ask his readers for a reconfiguring of how important they consider the freedom of animals to be. He makes it easy to learn about the treatment of animals, but don’t get it twisted—this is a humorous literary novel first, not only a primer on animal rights.
Writing about this topic isn’t easy, but Augello thrives in it. By the end, you’ll see a monkey play a role as prominent, and as lovable, as any human. How could he and so many other animals end up under the knife of vivisection?
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Genre: Literary Fiction / Humor
Print Length: 257 pages
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