The reason I loved Water For Elephants so much was not the animals, though, it was the narrator. I thought Gruen took a very interesting approach by writing from the perspective of an elderly man who is stuck in a nursing home — how many of us have visited relatives in nursing homes and been immediately depressed upon walking in the building? To the extent possible this book shows us the other side, how difficult it is to be one of the people who has to stay in those places long after visiting hours are over.
I digress. Ape House focuses more on the animal part of the story, on bonobo apes to be exact. It is about a timid young woman named Isabel Duncan who works at a research facility in Kansas dedicated to studying the language of bonobos, who according to this book can communicate with humans and each other via American Sign Language. Isabel has just been interviewed about this phenomenon by a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer, and at first it seems like this is going to be a romance with some animals in the background but then the place is blown up and you immediately need to know what happens to a) Isabel and b) the apes. (I am a total sucker for anything about hurting animals — I cried my head off when I read Animal Farm in high school and they killed the horse to make glue, allegory aside — but I think anyone reading this wouldn’t have been able to put it down after learning that a lab with innocent people and animals inside was bombed. Right?)
So then Isabel has to recover from these intense injuries as a result of the explosion while trying to find out whodunnit and where the apes have disappeared to. She also has to deal with her less-than-ideal relationship with the man in charge of the lab, Peter, who turns out to be absolutely horrible. In the midst of all this there is a lot of talk about the mistreatment of apes in zoos and the like — which are reminiscent of the awful cow stories in My Year of Meats — and eventually she finds out the apes are starring in a new reality TV show put together by an ex-porn producer. So there’s a whole lot of look-what’s-wrong-with-what-we-call-entertainment-these-days thrown into the “message” of the book.
Isabel’s situation is juxtaposed with the reporter’s (John), who must accept a gross tabloid job after abruptly quitting the Inquirer but pursues the stolen apes story anyway. His wife (Amanda) is a long-time-out-of-work author who decides to move to Los Angeles and get all Hollywood-ed up via plastic surgery and writing scripts for a new TV show (no, not the ape reality one), and the two constantly fight about money, the misery of a long-distance relationship, and babies, or lack thereof. The chapters about them are not as interesting as the ones about Isabel, but it all ties together when the mystery of who blew up the lab and sold the apes to the porn guy (see above paragraph re: who turns out to be absolutely horrible) is solved.
I vaguely remember hearing that this book is not nearly as good as Water For Elephants. Many books are not good as Water for Elephants, but I really like Gruen’s style and am all about the animal thing so I do recommend this. It’s not the kind of book that makes you want to do nothing but read, it’s the kind of book that makes you semi-excited to get on the subway and read for a few minutes, know what I’m saying?
Next up: Last Chance Saloon, another Marian Keyes novel. Again, my mental/emotional state cannot possibly handle depressing out-of-my-comfort-zone books at the moment, and I pray there are no dirty scenes in this one because I got it from my 75-year-old aunt who got it from my mother.