Friday, January 14, 2011

Ape House - Sara Gruen (Audio)


There aren't many people tromping around these days that haven't at least HEARD of "Water for Elephants", Gruen's claim to fame. Maybe they've read the book or they are going to see the upcoming movie, or friends have been raving about it. Here lies the danger, however, for anything that the author writes from here on forward. There is a taste of success, there is pressure for more, and then things fall apart. Which is what seemed to happen in this case.

Synopsis: Our dual storyline starts off merged: The beautiful Isabel, a scientist at a Great Ape Language Lab, is showing off her eerily human, highly intelligent test subjects to reporter John Thigpen, who is enchanted by the experience. Thigpen goes back home to Philly, and that same day the Lab is bombed presumably by terroristic animal rights activists, seriously injuring Isabel and releasing the apes. Bad guys purchase the apes for nefarious purposes, which becomes evident through a public display of very bad taste.

Then our storylines separate for a bit. Thigpen's wife, an unsuccessful author, wants to try to her hand at writing a comedic series in Hollywood. Thigpen is miserable at his job as a newspaper reporter, particularly when an ambitious colleague "steals" his story on the apes. So they move to Los Angeles, Thigpen hires on at a tabloid, and chases down the ape story for himself.

Isabel goes through various stages of recuperation and depression. She breaks up with her slimy two-timing fiance. She longs to be with her apes. She finds out where they are and attempts to make contact.

Then things get...weird. Russian hookers. Exploding meth labs. A porn king. A homeless, farting pit bull. A paternity scare. And then a fairly predictable ending, all perfect and shiny and wrapped up with a big red bow.

My thoughts: I usually try to keep my synopsis fairly neutral but I failed this time. This whole thing went wrong in so many ways. The bad guys were caricatures, with crooked smiles and cold eyes and sinister statements. The plot wandered. Maybe the ape thing wasn't exciting or Hollywood enough, so Gruen had to throw in random action? It was like a twisted Disney movie.

There was a decent amount of seemingly factual information about the Bonobo Apes...their behavior, their ability to communicate through sign language, their higher intelligence. This was pretty fascinating stuff, although I kept asking myself silently "Is this realistic? Do Bonobos really act like this, with this much reason and emotion?". I never dug around on the Internet to obtain an answer to that question. I have to assume that Gruen did her homework. I guess my point is that the behavior of the apes in the book was just edgy enough that I wasted mental effort in wondering if it was truth or exaggeration.

If I hadn't been reading this book for my book club, I would have dropped this one like a hot potato.

A word about the audio production: The narrator for this production was Paul Boehmer, someone who appears to have been around the audiobook block, as well as a minor actor. Personally, however, I found him smarmy and a little too feminine-sounding and he made my skin crawl. I would not choose to listen to him again. I think it is important to note that this did not have any influence over my opinion of the book and its plot. The entire package did not meet my expectations.

Thoughts from the Heathrow Literary Society: This month at book club, it was my turn to facilitate the discussion, and I was worried that my 'tude would be evident. So I just kept quiet and let the people speak. I heard words like "superficial" and "weird" and "I'm indifferent". One member read the book a couple of months ago, and couldn't recall the name of a single character, and had forgotten about the Russian prostitutes. We all agreed the ape angle was interesting, but not enough to squeeze out more than a 2.5 or a 3 out of 5 stars from anyone at the table.


2 out of 5 stars



25 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

Oh no! I LOVED Water for Elephants so am quite sad to see that no one at your book club like this one. I think I'll heed your warning and hope her next book returns to the magic of Elephants.

Jeane said...

Hm. I'd been hoping to like this one, but sounds like it really disintegrates.

JoAnn said...

My book club attended Gruen's talk at the Rosamund Gifford Lecture Series in Syracuse, NY last year. She spoke at length about her research, and there was plenty of it! She spent a large amount of time with the Bonobo Apes and made them sound amazingly human. But even after listening to her, I wasn't excited about the book (and I loved Water for Elephants). Guess I can safely skip it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Oh I hate hate hate when bad guys are caricatures! Why do authors have so much of a problem adding nuance to bad guys?

marthalama said...

I may be the only one who hasn't read Water for Elephants but I'm going to have to soon. Too bad this one isn't as good. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it but good for you for sticking with it and giving it a chance. I think I'll take a pass on this one.

Avid Reader said...

Ouch, this sounds awful. I loved Water for Elephants and was so disappointed when I read one bad review after another of her latest. I don't even want to try it.

Zibilee said...

Oh no! This one does sound awful! It sounds like Gruen just got all weird in attempt to capture her reader's attention, which is something that doesn't always work well. I just read another review of a book called Bonobo Handshake, which seems to have all the information you are looking for on the monkeys, without all the bizarre plot contrivances. Just thought I'd put that out there, if you are interested in the subject.

Julie P. said...

Hmmm. Well I certainly didn't hate it like you did but I do see your points. I read it last May and I have to admit that the book didn't stay with me either. I'm a huge fan of apes/monkeys and I did appreciate how she juxtaposed animals with man. Having said that, it wasn't LIKE WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.

caite said...

two stars? wow...think I may skip this one.

Teacher/Learner said...

That's too bad as Water For Elephants (which I recently finished) was wonderful, but I've heard similar reviews on Ape House from most book bloggers, so I'm probably going to pass on this, too. Nuts...I thought this author would be one I could read more of :(

Jen - devourer of books said...

I really didn't like this one either, and I thought that the audio was particularly bad. The apes were interesting, but the people pretty much universally sucked.

bermudaonion said...

I am so bummed that this isn't as good as Water for Elephants. :(

Meg said...

Very interesting review! The plot of this one definitely had my attention when I read a blurb months ago, but I wasn't sure it would be up my alley... and, yeah: definitely sure it's not now!

Water For Elephants is in my TBR stack... looking forward to starting that one before the movie comes out! Hopefully, that is.

Man of la Books said...

I also loved Water for Elephants but you are not the only one who didn't gush all over Ape House.

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

The Bumbles said...

Well I am totally shocked that Russian hookers and apes did not make for a 5 star read. Your synopsis reminds me of The Juror - which is not a good thing.

Darlene said...

I haven't read her first book but I have heard that this one just doesn't cut it. It's too bad considering how successful her first one was.

Melissa M said...

I've seen other people be disappointed by this one too. Since I still haven't read Water for Elephants I'll be sure to start there.

Iliana said...

Oh dear, when you can't recall a single character's name that's not a good sign, right? Hopefully your next book group book will be much better.

I was sort of intrigued by this one because of the first book, which I haven't even read but would like to, but after your description I don't know. I just don't like when there are so many wild, crazy antics going on that you feel are throw in to make the book more interesting. This does sound odd.

Jenners said...

Well, I'll give this one a pass. Thanks for taking one for the team. It sounds like a totally different author wrote this book. It just sounds wild and out of control.

On the plus side, I'm all about Robert Pattinson starring the movie. I've got a crush on that boy that I find both embarrassing and hard to shake.

Beth F said...

It sounded so interesting when I heard about it at BEA. Bummer.

heidenkind said...

The title alone is pretty dang awful.

Trisha said...

You have become my favorite person ever. You used the word 'smarmy'. I have been trying to convince my family that I am not the only one in the world who knows and uses this word. It has actually been a hot topic of familial conversation for the past three months or so. Love it!

Kathleen said...

Bummer about this one. I'm glad I still have yet to read Water for Elephants so I can look forward to that one!

Swapna said...

I've heard mixed things about this one. I think I might continue to put off reading it!

Toni Osborne said...

It was not that bad but kind of underdeveloped plotting and characters....hum not a 5 stars for sure. I expected the animals would have been the main players but was disappointed to find out it was not so...

great review BTW