The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2/10/2010
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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After 15 years of designing more than 1,500 book jackets at Knopf for such authors as Anne Rice and Michael Chrichton, Kidd has crafted an affecting an entertaining novel set at a state university in the late 1950s that is both slap-happily funny and heartbreakingly sad. The Cheese Monkeys is a college novel that takes place over a tightly written two semesters. The book is set in the late 1950s at State U, where the young narrator, has decided to major in art, much to his parents' dismay. It is an autobiographical, coming-of-age novel which tells universally appealing stories of maturity, finding a calling in life, and being inspired by a loving, demanding, and highly eccentric teacher.


The Cheese Monkeys
A Novel In Two Semesters

Chapter One


During which we construct our course of study.

"So, what are you taking?"

At that point I could have said a lot of things -- I could have said, "If I don't get the classes I need after waiting five hours in this line, I am taking that clipboard out of your sausage-fingered hands, breaking it into ten thick splinters, and slowly introducing each one of them beneath your cuticles as a way of saying Thanks for herding us like a flock of three thousand Guatemalan dirt pigs into a ventilation-free hall built for three hundred in order to ask us questions we've already answered so many times our minds are jelly and our jaws squeak -- an act which has to be covered somewhere in the Bible as punishable by any manner we, in His righteous stead, see fit."

But I didn't.

I mumbled for the umpteenth time that yearlong day of that first awful month, my tongue thick with shame,

"Me? Art."


Majoring in Art at the state university appealed to me because I have always hated Art, and I had a hunch if any school would treat the subject with the proper disdain, it would be one that was run by the government. Of course I was right. My suspicions were confirmed the minute I entered the Visual Arts building on arrival my freshmen year and took in the faculty show in its gallery. I beheld: melting lop-sided Umbrian? hillsides, nudes run over by the Cubist Express, suburban-surrealist flower ladies going about their daily tasks weeping blood tears the size of water balloons, and kittens. Yes, kittens. I thought, "Now these people hate Art a lot. This is where I belong. Perfect."

So what did I like? Well, that spring of senior year at Upper Wissahicken High I was quite pleased with a drawing in green pencil I did on the margin of a page in my dreary Civics textbook of Mickey Mouse (from the Steamboat Willy era when he really looked like something you'd set out a trap for and cross your fingers) ritually eviscerating Olive Oyl with an oyster fork, because it marked the first time I finally got the proportion of his eyes to his mouth and nose absolutely right without any reference material. I was also rather partial to the scoreboard I'd Made in April out of aubergine sequins and six shirt cardboards for Skizzy Bickfield's Wingless Fly Races. Even then I knew these sorts of things and the many others like them were NOT Art. They were too much fun. Real artists -- the ones I'd read about, anyway -- lopped off their ears and starved themselves, twitching with demented fits in drafty attics of unredeemed squalor, only to be dragged in the dead of night to the Vatican and murdered by the pope.

Thank you, no.

But at the end of the day, you can't major in Making Stuff, so it was Art by default.

When I told Mom and Dad I wanted to be an Art major the floor practically came up to greet them. (Mom, near sobs: "Why didn't you tell us before? Maybe we could have done something ... ") But they'd sooner see me convert to Catholicism than attend a trade school, so State it was.

Let me point out here, before you get the wrong impression: causing my mother and father any unearned stress or horror with this plan didn't even occur to me, and wasn't the point. I knew I was supposed to love my parents, and in fact, I was reasonably certain that I did; as one would fondly regard a reliable old sedan (with big soft seats) that started right up, even on frigid winter mornings, and practically never broke down. Or, better -- two loyal, ageless farm cows, which besides everything else even let you ride them if you really wanted to. They could be counted on for an endless stream of milk, and should that ever be exhausted ... well, meat. I should add that I gave them credit for about as much intelligence, a fact I now review with some regret.

As I do with most.

College? I was never too crazy about the idea in the first place, but not going didn't seem to be a choice -- any more than not going through puberty. And it looked to be about a tenth as fun. Actually, it wasn't hatred of Art that led me to State at all, it was hatred of responsibility. In the face of this distant but charging train of education, I just ran along the tracks and alit onto the platform at the nearest station. Once decided, I put as little thought into it as possible. It was a necessary but potentially disfiguring operation, scheduled for the vague, impending future. At some point it would be over, so no sense in dwelling on it. What's for supper?


"That must be it." Mom's voice pulled the rug of sleep out from under me. "Dom, start moving over to the right lane, there'll be an exit soon." Then, noticing me, "You're up. Just in time. Want some juice?" She was already pouring. My mother was incapable of undertaking any car trip longer than twenty minutes without enough coolers, snacks, napkins, sandwiches, and cups to see us clear to Spokane without stopping. Livingstone took less when he explored the Congo.

Now she was referring to the complex of buildings that loomed in the valley below as we descended a mountain in the August noon heat.

"It's certainly big." She turned to my father. "And you made such good time, Dad. Were you speeding?" The idea -- Dad speeding. Imagine Mercury loitering.

"No. Funny though, we shouldn't have gotten here this quick. Let's see the map, Took." Mom's nickname was Tookie. Did I mention that?

"Finish your hoagie first. What do you want to know? You should be in the right lane. Where's the stadium? I don't see the stadium. You're dripping."

The Cheese Monkeys
A Novel In Two Semesters
. Copyright © by Chip Kidd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters by Chip Kidd
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