These days, it can be hard for a star to keep up with his Facebook feeds and the television and newspaper stories about him, not to mention where he’s been and who he’s met—especially if he’s a monkey. But in our latest notable narrative, St. Petersburg Times reporter Michael Kruse ties up the loose ends of a macaque on the loose in a way that any primate could appreciate.
Taking on the kind of assignment done by hundreds of journalists a year, Kruse rejects the straight-news approach and seriously examines the monkey as a character. Clocking in at just shy of 2,000 words, the piece is not pure narrative but uses narrative elements in ways we imagine could still make it into the pages of any one of dozens of newspapers nationwide (including some that have dropped narrative).
Here’s a sample:
The man from Fish and Wildlife fired a tranquilizer dart at him.
The man from Fish and Wildlife fired another.
Something to understand about these monkeys is that they’ve been used for research for more than half a century. They’ve had rings screwed into their skulls and electrodes embedded in their skin and they’ve been key in AIDS research and in finding a polio vaccine. A rhesus macaque was the first living thing to get shot into space and come back alive. These monkeys are tough.
So the monkey removed the one dart, then the other, and then he ran. His adrenaline surged. He bolted to a different tree and across a street and he hopped a fence and he disappeared and found a place to lay low and sleep it off.
Kruse juices up a mundane moment (human shoots monkey with tranquilizer darts) by slowing events down to let the reader experience them. Then he slips in backstory about people’s relations with rhesus monkeys, revealing something about them and us. And even though we know that monkey hasn’t been caught yet, we’re on the edge of our seats to see what will happen.Note, too, that while Kruse doesn’t use a lot of literary flourishes, describing the monkey as lying low and sleeping it off helps tag the critter as character on the lam. Kruse also folds his reporting about the monkey genome and primate experts in with eyewitness accounts of the fugitive. The sparse but entertaining multimedia for the story includes a Google map, short video clips and links to the monkey’s Facebook fan club and fan page, as well as a humorous take on lookout posters used for criminal suspects. The individual pieces add up to something funny, sad and strange—an everyday event made fascinating because it tilts toward story.
[For more monkey mayhem, read our interview with Michael Kruse, in which he also talks about “After the Crash,” his prize-winning story on NASCAR and the economy.]