Author: Sara Gruen
Why did I pick it up?: Pure animal love. Sara Gruen's books focus around animals who are shown as having defined personalities.
Synopsis: 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.
My Review: Gruen's formula which she used in Water for Elephants is apparent in Ape House. I enjoyed both books, but I know some people might not. They are too many coincidences, too much deus ex machina for some people's tastes. A lot of things, "just so happen" to work out. Since I assume most people have either read Water for Elephants, seen the movie, I'm going to drop some spoilers. That was your warning.
The protagonist, a veterinarian student who is a few exams away from being a licensed vet, while in the midst of crisis hops on a passing train which turns out to be a circus train. As it just so happens this circus is in desperate need of a vet, so they don't throw him overboard. Very quickly, I think it was the next day, they stumble upon an elephant and it just so happens this elephant has already been trained only she was trained in Polish. Oh, did I mention our protagonist just so happens to speak Polish?
That's a lot of coincidence, too much? I think it depends on what you are looking to get out of a novel. Judging by the novel's success I don't think most of the country minds. If you want a realistic story, this might bug you. I didn't mind, because it's fiction and if it's obviously fiction that's cool. I also find the crux of Gruen's skill lies in her research. I learned a lot about elephants and the depression in America and the strange, cruel lives of the circus people in Water for Elephants. In Ape House, I learned about bonobos and I loved that aspect of the book.
The bonobos are smart, eerily smart. Though they seem more like children than human adults in how they give in to their desires and make demands. One example of this is a bonobo who wants Starbucks and refuses to accept "no" from Isabel, who eventually gives in and sends her assistant to get the ape a macchiato. Each ape has its own personality and I would have liked to have them fleshed out a bit more, but perhaps that was just me being more interested in the apes as characters.
Isabel considers herself an advocate for animal rights. She's a vegetarian and considers the apes as her family. She loves and spoils them with things like expensive coffees. But there are also extremists who protest at the language lab where Isabel works, she muses that this is largely in part to their lack of understanding what happens at the language lab and that the word "lab" gives them this incorrect impression. On the other end of the animal rights spectrum are the companies who experiment on animals and the entertainment mogul who buys the bonobos to create a Reality TV show around them. Isabel has discussions and arguments with representatives from all of these groups and I enjoyed seeing the issues brought to the reader's attention. However, I would have liked to hear why the work at the language lab was important. What do we have to learn from bonobos? How does communicating with them help us? How does it help them? After reading Ape House, I'm still wondering, though I feel it is important to understand the world around us and the other animals that inhabit it beside us. It would have been nice to hear a deeper reason for teaching apes sign language.
My Recommendation: Animal people,Water for Elephants fans, and readers of bestsellers would most likely enjoy this.
For Next Week: The Stand by Stephen King