Ruff, Matt 1965-

views updated

Ruff, Matt 1965-


Born September 8, 1965, in New York, NY; married Lisa Gold. Education: Cornell University, degree in creative writing.


Home—Seattle, WA. E-mail—[email protected].




James Tiptree, Jr., Award, 2003, Washington State Book Award, 2004, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, 2004, all for Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls; literature fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 2006; Alex Award, American Library Association, and Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, both 2008, both for Bad Monkeys.


Fool on the Hill (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Bad Monkeys, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.


Matt Ruff wrote his first novel, Fool on the Hill, while he was attending Cornell University, and the campus and city of Ithaca, New York, figure in the story, which has several threads. Characters include Ezra Cornell, the founder of the school; writer Stephen Titus George (St. George), who competes in storytelling with Mr. Sunshine; Mr. Sunshine, a Greek god (Apollo), who manipulates the lives of people to create "true fictions"; a dog named Luther and a cat named Blackjack, who are in search of paradise; Aurora Borealis Smith, a student Mr. Sunshine chooses to romantically link to George; Calliope, the most beautiful woman in the world and the last of the nine muses; and an army of rats. The campus is populated by knights known as Bohemians and by sprites who glide through the air and fall in love with humans. Of this debut, Jane Dorrell wrote in Books that Ruff "has a tremendous imagination, and his gift as a storyteller matches that of Mr. Sunshine himself. The adventures of his disparate characters keep us turning the pages faster and faster." In reviewing Fool on the Hill for the London Observer, Jan Dalley said that "fans of the psychedelic revival will find a richness in its sheer scale."

Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, Ruff's next novel, is a political satire set in the year 2023. Billionaire Harry Gant's project, a new Tower of Babel being built in Manhattan by a crew of both human and android steelworkers, is at the halfway point. Gant's former wife, Joan Fine, has been hired to find out who killed a Wall Street financier who had been out to destroy Gant Industries, and who was beaten to death with a copy of Atlas Shrugged. The book's author, Ayn Rand, is brought back from the dead by computer and is captured in a lamp to become Joan's helper. Rand's theory of Objectivism threads its way through a plot that also includes a history of the Walt Disney Company and J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation. Other characters include Philo Dufresne, an environmentalist pirate who glides beneath the shipping lanes of the East Coast in a green and pink submarine that was fashioned by Howard Hughes; Philo's daughter, Seraphina, who lives within the walls of the New York Public Library; Lexa Thatcher, a newspaper publisher and pornographer whose Volkswagen Beetle has been taken over by the spirit of Abbey Hoffman; and a mutant great white shark that roams below New York City in the sewer system. "Ruff uses a cartoonist's palette in his portraits of everyone and everything," commented a Publishers Weekly critic about the book.

In 2003, Ruff published Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, which was called "a surprisingly dense story that boils down to a journey of self-discovery" by Booklist writer Regina Schroeder. Set in contemporary Seattle, the story features Andrew Gage, a soft-spoken man in his mid-twenties whose personality was split apart by an abusive stepfather when he was three years old. His strongest personality or ego, his "father," Aaron, has been in charge of the body since then, controlling the hundreds of "souls," including fifteen-year-old Adam, five-year-old Jake, gentle Aunt Sam, and the violent Gideon, who was banished from the "house." Andrew, who has now been put in charge, has been in existence for only two years. The gentle soul allots time to each of the others, and his landlady, Mrs. Winslow, speaks to each individually and cooks according to their special preferences. "This sort of specificity—funny and tender at once—is part of what drives Set This House in Order by making Andrew both familiar and sympathetic," wrote Gail Caldwell in the Boston Globe. "People tend to want to care for him."

Andrew's friend and employer, Julie Sivik, is an entrepreneur whose Reality Factory creates virtual reality programming. She suspects that Andrew's multiple personalities may give him more insight into the techno-fantasy world than a normal person would be capable of. She also hires another programmer, Penny "Mouse" Driver, who is also a multiple personality but who has less control of her personas, including a barfly, a hardware geek named Thread, and twins Malefica and Maledicta. When Penny's dominant personality reaches out to Andrew, his fragility is put in peril. The two, plus all of their personalities, make a cross-country trip to Andrew's home in Michigan, where he plans to face his past head-on; conflicts arise as each tries to take control.

Kerry Fried noted in the New York Times Book Review that in his earlier two books, Ruff "was prodigal with his plots, his human extras, his animal delights. Set This House in Order, though equally irresistible, is a bolder book, an odyssey of transformation and trust rather than a clamorous symphony of a thousand." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that "though he takes his hero seriously, Ruff offers plenty of comic situations as Andrew tries to interact with the outside world while the other souls kibbitz. Best of all is the endearing Andrew, a truly original protagonist."

Ruff's fourth novel, Bad Monkeys, features Jane Charlotte, an unreliable narrator of a heroine who has been accused of murder and taken into custody. There is some question as to whether or not Jane is sane enough to stand trial, and so a psychiatrist is called in to make an evaluation. Jane informs the good doctor that she is an employee of the Department of Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, otherwise known as Bad Monkeys, a department within a larger organization that's mission is to fight evil. As a Bad Monkey, her duty is to locate people who are doing evil things and kill them. Jane, however, has gone a bit rogue, thrown into emotional upheaval during her search for the person who killed her brother. There is no question as to whether Jane is a killer, but the question of whether or not she is sane makes for a clever, humorous, if sometimes brutal narrative that met with mixed reviews. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews opined that "despite the metaphysical trappings of Existential Big Themes, it's hard to care too deeply about the characters, who remain intellectual cardboard cutouts." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "expert characterization of Jane and agile manipulation of layers of reality ground the novel." Geoffrey H. Goodwin, in an introduction to an interview with Ruff for Bookslut, called the book "a wondrous meld of ideas and story."



Booklist, January 1, 2003, Regina Schroeder, review of Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, p. 851; May 1, 2007, Joanna Wilkinson, review of Bad Monkeys.

Books, March, 1989, Jane Dorrell, review of Fool on the Hill, p. 22; August 25, 2007, "An Original Look at Good, Evil," review of Bad Monkeys, p. 11.

Boston Globe, February 15, 2003, Gail Caldwell, review of Set This House in Order, p. E6.

Entertainment Weekly, February 14, 1997, Vanessa V. Friedman, review of Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, p. 56.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Set This House in Order, p. 174; May 1, 2007, review of Bad Monkeys.

Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2007, Edward Champion, review of Bad Monkeys.

New Statesman, October 27, 2003, Jonathan Headwood, review of Set This House in Order, p. 55.

New York Times Book Review, March 23, 2003, Kerry Fried, review of Set This House in Order, p. 5; August 26, 2007, Jonathan Ames, "Death Angel," review of Bad Monkeys, p. 18L.

Observer (London, England), March 19, 1989, Jan Dalley, review of Fool on the Hill, p. 48.

O, the Oprah Magazine, February, 2003, Elaina Richardson, review of Set This House in Order, p. 116.

Publishers Weekly, October 28, 1996, review of Sewer, Gas, and Electric, p. 56; January 27, 2003, review of Set This House in Order, p. 238; June 11, 2007, review of Bad Monkeys, p. 40.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2003, Chad W. Post, review of Set This House in Order, p. 141.

San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 2003, Barbara Quick, review of Set This House in Order; November 18, 2007, Michael Berry, review of Bad Monkeys.

Seattle Times, January 27, 2003, Nisi Shawl, review of Set This House in Order; August 17, 2007, Mary Ann Gwinn, "Intriguing Questions, then … a Baffling Splatterfest," review of Bad Monkeys.

Washington Post Book World, April 20, 2003, Victor LaValle, review of Set This House in Order, p. 9; August 8, 2007, Paul Di Filippo, review of Bad Monkeys.


Bookslut, (August, 2007), Geoffrey H. Goodwin, interview with Matt Ruff.

Matt Ruff Home Page, (January 17, 2008).

Philadelphia City Paper Online, (February 20, 1997), Jim Gladstone, interview with Ruff., (January 17, 2008), Adam Liebling, interview with Ruff.