By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

Ape House by Sara Gruen

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of becoming a best selling writer would be facing your follow-up work.  Much speculation and anticipation surrounds the book published after an author’s breakthrough title.  For example, after the popularity of The Time Traveler’s Wife,  Audrey Niffenegger was paid an advance of $5 million for her next novel, Her Fearful Symmetry (reviewed here).  Of course, after her first novel’s success, expectations were high.  Thus, after Sara Gruen’s New York Times bestselling novel, Water For Elephants, (which will be released as a film in April, 2011) was nominated for numerous awards and became a book club favorite, there has been a lot of buzz about her subsequent book, Ape House.

While Water For Elephants is set in the 1930s and features circus animals, Ape House has a contemporary setting with bonobo apes in a research facility.  A scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, Isabel Duncan considers the bonobos she works with to be family.  While protesters camp outside the building, inside the apes are loved and well- treated: they are taught American Sign Language (ASL) and can communicate with each other and with the scientist.  John Thigpen is a reporter who wants to write a story about Isabel and the apes.  After spending a day at the lab, he is impressed and intrigued.  But that evening, with only Isabel in the lab with the 6 apes, the building is bombed.  Isabel is seriously injured and the apes disappear in the mayhem that follows.

As Isabel goes through her recovery, she frantically tries to track down the bonobos.  When they turn up, a few months later, on a reality TV show, both Isabel and reporter John Thigpen rush to the town where the reality show is being filmed.  Isabel tries to unravel who is responsible for the bombing and the show while John covers the story.  Both of their personal lives are falling apart while the bonobos are on TV 24 hours a day.  Gruen adds mystery, wacky characters (including Russian strippers and a dog named Booger), and social commentary on our relationship to animals and our obsession with celebrity and reality TV.  This book is packed with diverse characters and non-stop action.

Just as she researched the Great Depression for her last novel, Gruen studied linguistics and learned ASL before writing Ape House.  She spent time with bonobo apes at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa and many of the conversations and interactions between humans and apes in the book come directly from her experience. 

For readers who enjoy popular fiction with a dash of social commentary, Ape House is a fast-paced read that will appeal to animal lovers.


Leave a Reply