Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ape House

I'm one of five people who didn't read Sara Gruen's Water For Elephants, so Ape House was my introduction to her writing. I liked it. I don't mean to damn it with faint praise, I really did like it. Quite a bit. Just short of a lot. I didn't love it, but I couldn't put my finger on why. I don't have a complaint with it, except that it's maybe a bit too neat. I don't mind a "Six Months Later" postscript to a story, but I do mind when it simply serves as a way to tie everything up just so. The story and characters don't feel forced (that, I would not have liked), but they seem easy, the tragedies don't seem tragic, the revelations don't bring any real epiphanies. The whole thing never quite comes alive.

That sounds like I didn't like it. I did. I liked the story, I liked the characters. I liked that the apes were characters. In fact, that may be at the heart of the problem. The book's premise suggests a kind of "apes are people too" premise (something I'm not convinced of, but am intrigued by) and yet the apes seem secondary. When featured, they are the most interesting characters in the book and yet they are never fully featured. The promise of the book is that they will be more than plot devices, but they almost never are. Which is sad. Because the other, more heavily featured characters suffer in comparison. I wanted to know more about the apes and less about the woman who works with them, the reporter who is captivated by them, the mogul who exploits them, etc. I had hoped Gruen might get me inside the apes' heads (no easy task, I grant you), but she never does. Which makes the premise seem unconvincing. One walks away feeling that the apes couldn't be fleshed out simply because they're not as "human" as the author would have us believe.

I really did like this book. Really.

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