Ape House, by Sara Gruen

I found myself reading Sara Gruen’s Ape House almost by accident. I’d heard a lot of good things about her earlier novel, Water for Elephants, but it wasn’t available at the e-library and Ape House was. I’d heard an interview with Gruen about Ape House that made the book sound worth reading despite the fact — and this is a HUGE caveat — that I am really, really creeped out by apes, monkeys, chimps, gorilla … you name it, if it’s a non-human primate, it gives me the willies. The stars of Ape House are bonobos, and I guess for most readers it’s their human-like behavior that makes them intriguing and engaging characters in the novel, but for me, it was a huge obstacle to overcome.

Fortunately, there are human characters as well — a researcher studying the bonobos; a journalist trying to get the story while keeping his own career alive; the journalist’s wife, an aspiring novelist; and a host of minor characters. I’ve read bad reviews of this novel in which readers have said that the apes are the only well-developed characters while all the humans are caricatures. I didn’t find that to be true, although there certainly is a bit of stereotyping going on, especially when Amanda, the would-be novelist, gets a screenwriting job in Hollywood. While they may not have been as compelling as the characters in some books I’ve read and loved lately, I got absorbed into the storyline and interested to find out what would happen — and that was in spite of, not because of, the bonobos. I clearly was not the ideal reader for this book but found it readable and enjoyable nonetheless.

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