“Dr. Mary’s Monkey” Book Review: Spoilers Likely

marymonkeyMy mother has been hounding me for literally years to read a book about… “blah blah blah conspiracy theories on random sensational stuff, and JFK’s assassination.” My mom has been full of conspiracy theories and paranoia since before I left the house as an ‘adult’ the first time, much less years later with children and legitimate responsibilities. She prepared for the Y2K disaster with a single-minded devotion that was very serious and very real to her, and made her look like a bit of a loony to the rest of the world… Although, if she had been right, our only hope of survival was, well… Survival, or going to her house and then survival. I remember one night, coming to her house and it was the only place (aside from the bank) with a light on in town. The power had gone out, and she and the bank still had at least one bulb.

In her defense, Mom had years upon years of pretty ridiculous disasters, poverty, and disfavor that befell her from every side, so I understand her caution to a point. I do, however, hold off on subscribing to her theories. I have specifically (amateurishly) researched and then avoided both the ‘crop circle’ and’ ‘chem-trail’ phenomenon, because mysteries without a clear conclusion annoy me. I want a definitive and plausible answer that agrees with my spiritual (call it intuition, if you want) understanding, and my sense of completion and rightness, and most of these theories seem to lack that. Why are there chem-trails? Dude, I don’t know, but I see mysteriously uniform cross-hatch contrails over various Midwestern towns, and I wonder…

Mom has been trying to convince me that I should read this book for literally years. The JFK assassination was very real to her and her generation. Frankly, I don’t remember it, it doesn’t apply personally to my life in any immediate way, and I just don’t care about who or why JFK was killed. It was before my time. I’ve heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I didn’t know or care about anything more than “Cuba was bad, once upon a time” and vaguely recognize “Fidel Castro” as “bad”. Generational divide, I suppose; no, I’m sure, after reading about the passion that people felt about these issues at that time.

Mom came up with an actual, physical copy of “Dr. Mary’s Monkey” by Edward T. Haslan, and has been offering it around to her circle because she knew it was a great book. I had serious reservations about this book when I was given it, and I picked it up one afternoon when the kids had stolen my iPad to watch “Strawberry Shortcake” in the same way I’d read a Yahoo article about Kim Kardashian… But then, I couldn’t put it down….

Don’t be misled by the crazy-sounding scope of the cover text. This is narrative only very minimally connected to the JFK assassination. (As an aside – the only things I actually KNOW about that event are “grassy knoll” and “Lee Harvey Oswald”, so I went in to this pretty clean.) The ‘main character’, so to speak, is potentially much more interesting than our 35th President. The author is a compelling writer who draws the reader in to the story by narrating the progress of his own growing curiosity, from hearing peripherally about his father’s interaction with the individual who is really the subject of the book, to experiencing the effects of the aftermath firsthand, to his teacher’s comments about unfolding developments, personal suspicions, and investigations as he goes forward. He asks a lot of questions, but a thinking reader can make their own conclusions, and everything that may be of interest for further research or speculation is well-cited.

Ultimately, it was a very good read. Like a real-crime story in that it had legitimate references and leads, and a fictional one in that there was a firsthand character invested in the results, at least secondhand. Even as he writes, you can see that he is a generation removed from the events he portrays, but the way they reverberate is compelling.  I would actually recommend the book, if you’re interested in mystery or real-crime and are willing to speculate on the ultimate culprit without a definitive result.

SPOILER ALERT:{{As a footnote to the real review: The photos in the appendices make every description that the author or coroner attempts seem softened. They are grisly and baffling, and make me wonder if even the author’s ultimate conclusion was too soft. SPOILER(Perhaps she was caught in a direct beam, not simply an electrical charge!) Dehydrated everything, encasing and supporting structures burned away without their contents spilling forth… I seriously agree that the ‘death wound’ was a mercy killing after the intial trauma was enacted… What happened after that, I’m sure no one alive knows…}}

That being said…

The correlations that Haslan makes are very interesting, but I can’t help but be reminded of the Spurious Correlations website that Facebook led me to a few weeks back. If you associate these things blindly, oil imports from Norway caused 48.33 deaths by collision with railway trains in the US in 2009. On the same vein of suspicious consideration, the spike in polio after the introduction of penicillin (considering its method of entry to the human body) is very interesting. And the soft-tissue cancer spike could very well be partially responsible, but unless we have a definitive statistic that says an enormous majority of people who received the polio vaccine also developed cancer, versus people who did not receive it and did not develop cancer, we can’t verify this statistic within a reasonable shadow of a doubt. At the same time, while “early detection” may have been erroneously blamed, detection at all may have been overlooked. Autopsy is only performed if there is a question as to who, where, or why. If your grandma dies of “old age” or “acute” sickness in her hospital bed, an autopsy is unlikely to be performed. If your spouse is incarcerated temporarily for a minor infraction and then dies while in state care, there will most certainly be an investigation.

And so, to begin a paragraph inappropriately, I think that there is a serious information gap in the theory. Will it be filled? If the conspiracy theory is right, most likely not; or by a wholly irrelevant source, as demonstrated above… And while the ultimate point of the book (to me, at least) was to be 1)wary of what the government tells you and 2) wary of vaccines, I’m already wary of the government… But I’m also ready to inoculate my children against legitimate diseases that are still relevant in our environment. If they develop cancer at 50, they can hate me then. Because 1) ‘ll be dead, and 2) that will be 49 more years that they had because pertussis didn’t kill them at 1 (and that is a real threat in our local communities, not a myth to imagine – so is tuberculosis, weirdly). They’re going to hate me for something – may as well make it something that might get me grand-babies before I die.

Fascinating and frustratingly unresolved, in any case.

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