Ape House, by Sara Gruen (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010).
"Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships -- but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.
"Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn't understand people, but animals she gets -- especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she's ever felt among humans ... until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what's really going on inside.
"When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and 'liberating' the apes, John's human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he'll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becoms the biggest -- and unlikeliest -- phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.
"Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen's place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before."
"The plane had yet to take off, but Osgood, the photographer, was already snoring softly."
A solid all-around read. Neither as good as I'd hoped, nor as bad as I'd feared it might be.
Like just about everyone else I've asked, I loved Water for Elephants. That's a mixed blessing; on one hand, it certainly got me to read Ape House without thinking too much about whether it was worth carrying home, but on the other, it's a lot to live up to.
For the most part, it succeeds. The above summary, and a few early chapters in the same vein, had me fearing this would be yet another cheesy and inevitable love story, with the bonobos serving only as a fairly novel backdrop. I was quite pleased that it wasn't, and they didn't. Yes, Isabel's fiance ultimately proves to be a pretty over-the-top Jerky Bad Guy, but she and John don't end up riding off into the sunset together despite some heavy hints in that direction.
As far as what actually does happen, that's somewhat more of a mixed bag. There's a lot going on here, which isn't a bad thing ... but it's also not a terribly long novel, which made certain elements of the plot seem a bit rushed (including the conclusion). I would have liked more page space devoted to fleshing out the events in the second half of the book, and probably wouldn't have complained about more of the very entertaining bonobo scenes, either.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.