By Joyce Carol Oates

Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Black Sparrow Press
Year: 1976
Pages: 89


Abandoned as a baby in a bus station locker, shuttled from one abusive foster home and detention center to another, Bobbie Gotteson grew up angry, hurting, damaged. His hunger to succeed as a musician brought him across the country to Hollywood, but along with it came his seething rage, his paranoid delusions, and his capacity for acts of shocking violence.

Unavailable for 40 years, THE TRIUMPH OF THE SPIDER MONKEY is an eloquent, terrifying, heartbreaking exploration of madness by one of the most acclaimed authors of the past century. This definitive edition for the first time pairs the original novel with a never-before-collected companion novella by Joyce Carol Oates, unseen since its sole publication in a literary journal nearly half a century ago, which examines the impact of Gotteson’s killing spree on a woman who survived it, as seen through the eyes of the troubled young man hired by a private detective to surveil her…


2019 Hard Case Crime edition

  • The Triumph of the Spider Monkey
  • Love, Careless Love information

Features a new cover painting by the legendary Robert McGinnis.


It sliced up more people than they have records for, how’s that for a tease? You think that the State’s records show everything?—every slash? There were more brides than I remember. The Machete was, is, two and a half feet long, purchased at an Army-Navy Surplus Store in town here, a blade of steel, a sturdy man-sized handle, nothing like that thing the Prosecution has under its control. That blade is dull. If it is stained, the stains are rust and not blood. You can’t bring the Spider Monkey’s powers into the Hall of Justice; you can’t even see the Machete except by moonlight.


Of my works of fiction published by small presses, notably the legendary Black Sparrow Press, “The Triumph of the Spider Monkey” is the most audacious and inventive.  It is an “uncensored confession” of the sort of mass murderer/serial killer who has come to dwell permanently in the American psyche, a fecund Collective Unconscious roiling with revulsion, fascination, envy, and dread. Inspired by the phenomenon of the Charles Manson cult murders of August 1969, and the lengthy trial that followed, “The Triumph of the Spider Monkey” explores the aftermath of that period in American history when the ebullience and youthful idealism of the Sixties had run their course—the Greening of America followed by the Conflagration of America (Vietnam War/youthful fury and rebellion against that war; Nixon/Watergate; drugs, riots/”urban disturbances”; assassinations).  In this moral chaos, Bobbie Gotteson is a hapless victim, a perverted “son of God” (as Manson was a perverted “son-of-man”)—like the historical Manson, he was abused as a child; unlike Manson, he never imagines himself as a savior/con man manipulating others, and his affect is naive, not calculating.

For the writer, “The Triumph of the Spider Monkey” (1974) was an experimental work of the kind that, perhaps, Philip Roth’s “My Gang” (1971) was experimental for Philip, audaciously wild rides undertaken by writers who, in their more centrist, mainstream, realist modes, would never have been imagined, let alone executed. The exploitation of the lurid, the satirical evisceration of a culture through a debased figure (Manson, Nixon) speaking in the first person to a prurient audience, might have seemed, to the writers of that long-ago time, a kind of “triumph”—a repudiation of all we’d been trained to consider high literary culture, the gravitas of Henry James, the restrained cult of Hemingway. Seen from a distance, “Spider Monkey” was a gesture of youthful rebellion, and seeing it now, forty years later, reissued, with a radiantly lurid pulp cover by legendary artist and illustrator Robert McGinnis is a total—quite wonderful—surprise.

Joyce Carol Oates

Book Covers


slowly we are overrunning the earth
spidermonkeys twittering climbing leaping leering
on broken banjos

the Jukebox of the 40’s could not cage us in
stunned, the arm of the mechanism pauses

when the Spider Monkeys inside
open soul-doors to us spidermonkeys skinned alive
the magic of My Passage on Earth
will be just another headline


Choice, May 1977, p. 377
5 stars
“Oates, who should be declared a national treasure, continues her personal experiments in narrative and her exploration of the roots of unprovoked violence. As is sometimes her method, she explores the development of a somewhat talented, Manson-like psychopath. The story is told in flashbacks, confrontations, and through Bobbie Gotteson’s flickering, untrustworthy perceptions. Several scenes, particularly an interview with a child therapist and a session with a prison dentist, are savagely effective. Oates has concentrated her effects to achieve a maximal effect and the result is a small masterpiece. It is a worthy addition to an already distinguished body of work.”

Booklist, March 1, 1977, p. 992
4 stars

“Oates’ style pulsates on the border between prose and poetry as the killer’s mind is delineated to expose the shattering violence and oppressive desolation which are this writer’s specialty.”

Janet Wiehe, Library Journal, April 1, 1977, p. 834
3 stars
“Oates creates an odd but forceful portrait of a madman. Intense, experimental, and darkly humorous …”

Bruce Allen, Sewanee Review, Fall 1977, p. 693
3 stars
“…The Triumph of the Spider Monkey is relentless and monotonous, but has a curious seriocomic edge that is only infrequently present in her fiction.”

Kliatt Paperback Book Guide, Spring 1977, p. 7

Image: “Bright” by Threthny


  1. “a radiantly lurid pulp cover by legendary artist and illustrator Robert McGinnis”
    It’s not a “pulp cover.” It’s a paperback cover. Pulps were magazines, not books.
    No pulps look like that; many paperbacks do.
    Lloyd Cooke, Seattle


    • Definition: Pulp
      4 : a magazine or book printed on cheap paper (such as newsprint) and often dealing with sensational material
      also : sensational or tabloid writing —often used attributively


      • No books were published on cheap, untrimmed pulpwood paper. But a whole category of MAGAZINES called pulps were! Pulps were magazines not books.


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