Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ape House, by Sara Gruen

Early in Sara Gruen's latest novel, reporter John Thigpen muses about his experience communicating with a group of six bononos (a species of apes), feeling that something "massive had shifted" in his view of the world. We then meet Dr. Isabel Duncan, who not only works with the bonono but clearly sees them as colleagues and family. These chapters raise the reader's expectations, suggesting that exploring the world of interspecies communication may be an experience that changes how you think about being human, about language.

But then all hell breaks loose--the lab where the bononos live is bombed and Isabel is severely hurt. John's wife Amanda moves to LA, leaving him in Philly, where an evil colleague steals his story. He quits his job and follows Amanda to LA, getting a job at a sleazy tabloid. Meanwhile, a reality show starring the bononos has become a sensation. Amanda and John both head to the small town in New Mexico where Ape House is filmed. Also flocking there are a variety of strange protestors, one of whom John comes to think may be his son, the product of a youthful and drunken sexual encounter. John joins ranks with several strippers who are staying in the room above his in the hotel, saves a meth-cooker and adopts his dog when the meth lab explodes, and . . . well, essentially the book becomes a romp.

Ape House is fun and, for someone who doesn't think a lot about communicating with animals, presents some interesting information about the bononos. It does not, however, fulfill that early promise of profoundly changing the reader's view of humanity or language.

Favorite passage (it's the epigraph, so Gruen didn't really write it, but it made me laugh out loud):

Give orange give me eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you. -- Nim Chimpsky, 1970s

Gimme gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme more. -- Britney Spears, 2007

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