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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.
'Ape House' is a light read that attempts to open the animal world to us by bringing the Bonobos Apes to life in an original way. Read morePublished on Sept. 21 2011 by Toni Osborne
I was sure disappointed in this book, Water for Elephants was great but this book was too juvenile as her "horsey" books tend to be. Read morePublished on May 10 2011 by all I do is read
Sara Gruen writes like a dream, but sadly I found this book disturbing for reasons not intended by the author. Read morePublished on March 28 2011 by Charomyces