Although I didn't post a complete review, I did list Gruen's Water for Elephants: A Novel as one of my favorite reads of 2009.
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. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.
Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen’s place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.
What I thought:
I LOVED Water for Elephants and honestly, was looking forward to reading Ape House. Same author...it should be just as good, if not better, right?
Not right. And now that I've read a few reviews from others, it seems I'm not the only one who was more than a little disappointed.
I'm sure that Gruen was trying to keep the plot line moving with all her twists and turns, but it all ended up feeling trite and some of the 'coincidences' that she used to connect characters (like a contrived paternity plot that was just silly from the start) were just TOO forced. Nothing seemed to develop naturally.
If the characters weren't totally and completely cliche (the monstrous mother-in-law, the Russian prostitute, the rebellious college intern), they completely whiny and inconsistent - or consistently whiny - like John and his wife, Amanda.
The ONLY parts of the book that I honestly enjoyed featured the bonobos. This is one area where you could tell the author had done her homework. I had not been aware of the Great Ape Trust and the amazing things that are going on there. It's actually not even that far away from where I live (about 5 hours).
I only wish she would have given the rest of her characters the same attention and took a little more time to make her plot lines a bit more believable.
I have higher hopes for the book I just started...hopefully this one's a winner.
NEXT ON THE BOOKSHELF:
The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom