Friday, November 5, 2010

Ape House
Sara Gruen

rating: 7 out of 10 "books"

If there’s ever been an author who will go above and beyond to research for a novel, Sara Gruen ranks high on that list. The newest book from the author of Water for Elephants explores the link between human-primate communication abilities, but on a deeper level, delves into the emotional link between the two and the similarities that exist no matter man or ape.

Isabel Duncan works for a college research facility studying the language and communication behaviors of bonobo apes. The closest things to family, her bonobos are her life. A reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, John Thigpen is assigned to report on the bonobo language facility. While Isabel and John are pretty much strangers to one another, leading two very different lives, when something major happens within the language lab, Isabel and John find themselves working side-by-side together.

Total romance novel-esque summary aside, Ape House is a very good read. Despite some bad reviews of the Water for Elephants follow-up, I think Gruen accomplishes a lot with this novel. I had no idea what this story was about besides apes, and even that gained tidbit from the title is not a fair presentation of the plot that follows. I really enjoyed the sort of split POV (point of view) that alternated between John and Isabel. The drama that occurs in each person’s life is a minor plotline that accentuates the overall theme of the story. John is constantly battling to keep his marriage afloat while economic, career, and mother-in-law troubles threaten to destroy his and his wife’s relationship. On top of that, his wife’s constant depression and yearning for a child leaves John anxious all the time. Isabel on the other hand, is dealing with her own personal demons; namely trust issues and an inability to fully open up to anybody, her fiancée included. Little is given to us as readers as far as Isabel’s family background, but it is enough information to discern that it has hugely affected Isabel’s current relationships.

Overall I’d say, if you liked Water for Elephants, try giving this novel a read. A lot of what happens in the story in relation to the bonobos are things that happened to Gruen herself when she was researching for the story at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa. A word of warning however for adults: the subject matter does get a little mature in some places, so have caution before adding this to your school collection or teen’s reading list.

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