Quill & Quire
Driven by a plot that defies convention, Sara Gruen’s Ape House is captivating. Her follow-up to the 2007 bestseller Water for Elephants is another story about animals, though its strikingly realized human characters turn out to be the main attraction.
Journalist John Thigpen, on assignment at a university language lab, is awed by his encounters with its resident bonobo apes. The bonobos communicate with people using sign language, convey complex ideas among themselves, and seem practically human in how they interact with the world. John is also struck by scientist Isabel Duncan, whose connection with the apes is so intense she considers them her family.
That family is torn apart, however, when an explosion destroys the lab the night after John’s visit. A radical animal rights group claims responsibility, Isabel is seriously injured, and the university quietly sells the bonobos to an anonymous buyer. Weeks later, when the animals appear on television as stars of a reality show called Ape House, John and Isabel begin working independently to uncover the truth behind the explosion and rescue the apes.
Gruen’s novel has resonance beyond its animal themes. She highlights the dismal state of American media – John’s job is under threat as the newspaper business crumbles, his colleagues resort to extremes to garner readership, and his wife is a literary novelist who finds herself writing for television in an era when a show about apes ordering pizza is considered the height of entertainment.
The story gets a bit crowded by the climax, but Gruen reins it in just in time. She deserves further credit for successfully integrating fact into her fiction: the language lab is based on an actual facility where the author did considerable research, but the science underlies the novel rather than overwhelming it.
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“Consider reality TV, meth labs, over-the-top animal-rights activists, Botox, tabloids and Internet diatribes, and you, too, might come to the conclusion: People should be more like animals. Sara Gruen’s entertaining, enlightening new novel will certainly leave you thinking so.”—Miami Herald
“Propulsive...Gruen writes with the commercial breathlessness of a cozier Dan Brown.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Gruen delivers a tale that’s full of heart, hope, and compelling questions about who we really are.”—Redbook
“Animal lovers, gather ‘round...[Ape House
] is much better [than Water for Elephants
]—funny because of some weird characters and circumstances that make life difficult for our intrepid reporter, and at the same time, compelling because those apes put to shame our beloved Homo sapiens.”—Newark Star Ledger
“Part expose, part thriller, part gothic romance and part comedy and farce...Gruen is a master at the popular novel plot.”—Asheville Citizen Times
“Gruen is clearly enjoying herself here. It is fun...the conceit of a household of language-endowed apes as the ne plus ultra of reality TV — leering humans greedy for profits and naughty thrills...apes who are at once innocent and more compassionate and dignified than the producers and the viewers — is terrific: an incisive piece of social commentary.”—New York Times Book Review
] hums along with a pop-culture plot full of slick profiteers, sleazy pornographers, idiotic reality TV and gossip rags — with botox and ape sex thrown in for entertaining reading.”—Des Moines Register
“Gruen has a knack for pacing and for creating distinctive animal characters. Scenes involving the bonobos are winsome without being sappy, and the reader comes to share Isabel’s concern for the animals.”—Boston Globe
"Gruen’s astute, wildly entertaining tale of interspecies connection is a novel of verve and conscience.”—Booklist
"Has the dramatic tension of a crime thriller...Twists and turns, lies, and treachery abound in this funny, clever, and perceptive story."—Library Journal
"Sara Gruen knows things—she knows them in her mind and in her heart. And, out of what she knows, she has created a true thriller that is addictive from its opening sentence. Devour it to find out what happens next, but also to learn remarkable and moving things about life on this planet. Very, very few novels can change the way you look at the world around you. This one does."—Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife
"I read Ape House
in one joyous breath. Ever an advocate for animals, Gruen brings them to life with the passion of a novelist and the accuracy of a scientist. She has already done more for bonobos than I could do in a lifetime. The novel is immaculately researched and lovingly crafted. If people fall in love with our forgotten, fascinating, endangered relative, it will be because of Ape House.
"—Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake
From the Hardcover edition.