Written by Lauryn Smith
Undeterred after reading Sara Gruen’s unassuming “At the Water’s Edge,” I took up “Ape House.” Now that I am done reading it, I wonder if Gruen might be a one-hit wonder. (Don’t get me wrong. Her writing style is lovely. “Water for Elephants” is, and probably always will be, one of my favorite books.) As much as I hate to say it, “Ape House” left me dizzy, and not in a good way.
“Ape House” is a contemporary dual-track story that begins well enough. Readers are introduced to John Thigpen, a journalist in Philadelphia who is writing a story on the six bonobos at the Great Ape Language Lab in Kansas. These particular apes are remarkable because they can use American Sign Language and computer software to reason, communicate and form deep relationships. John travels to meets the apes and lab staff, including Isabel Duncan, a scientist who regards the bonobos as family. On the night of the interview, Isabel and the apes are the victims of an explosion at the lab. The apes escape unharmed but are whisked away by an unknown force to an unknown location. Isabel, on the other hand, is tragically injured. During her long recovery, she makes it her goal to retrieve the apes to ensure their welfare. With the help of a disjointed ensemble, Isabel discovers that the apes were sold to Ken Faulks, a renowned pornographer. Yep, you read that right. This point, barely halfway into the book, is when the story becomes irritating. Gruen chooses to satirize human life by placing the bonobos in the hands of an adult film connoisseur, who in turn places the apes in a house full of cameras that broadcast live in the name of entertainment, considered such because of the bonobos’ inherent sexual inclinations.
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