Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ape House - Sara Gruen

Summary: 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 becomes 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.
Summary from book, cover photo from

My Review: Sara Gruen has combined the art of fiction writing and her personal experiences with Bonobo apes to create an intriguing tale in Ape House. Much like Water for Elephants, the animals in this story take on a life of their own becoming the focal characters in the plot. Gruen depicts the intelligence of these apes as she writes about their ability to communicate with humans not only their wants and needs but emotions as well. These are truly fascinating animals. She also touches on the political issues regarding the maintenance of these creatures, forcing the reader to consider the effects of the research being conducted.

It is odd that while the plot is devoted to the story of the Bonobos less than half of the book actually includes these primates. There were so many side stories going on one almost ends up dizzy. From a meth lab to prostitution to the account of a couple unable to conceive, one never knows where this tale will lead next. While these side stories add a bit of humor and drama to the book they just don't fit very nicely. The result is a distracting jumbled mess.

Fans of Water for Elephants be forewarned this book is just not of the same caliber. The characters within this novel lack substance in the manner Water for Elephants was able to achieve. It is hard to form a bond with such unrealistic characters and the ridiculous situations they find themselves involved in result in eye rolling. However the parts of this book that include the Bonobos are riveting and, in the end, save this novel from totally flopping.

My Rating: 3 stars

To sum it up: A good but not great tale from an author who is capable of so much more.


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I was not a huge fan of Water for Elephants, so I doubt I will be reading this.

MindySue said...

Sorry, you (or Sara, rather) lost me at ape reality show.


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