Book Review: Ape House by Sara Gruen

I had not yet read a book by Sara Gruen when I picked up Ape House. Water for Elephants is perhaps her better known work, thanks to the Hollywood movie that is now based on it. I haven’t yet had a chance to watch the movie but it is certainly on my to-do list. The author seems intrigued by stories of animals, certainly I appreciate her investigation into the way in which animals transform us, how we and they have the capacity to enter into mutually transformative relationships that brings us humans back to a sense of who we really are, at the core. Its just that there was less of that revelation in this novel and more filler and forgotten threads that I just couldn’t invest compassion in.

I finished Ape House a week or two ago and I let it all sink in before sitting down to write. I find my reading has slowed lately, due mostly to the fatigue of parenting two wee ones each day and then managing my progressing pregnancy. Simply put I grow more and more tired. Reading when tired is hard – instead of lingering over the words I find myself bouncing over them and re-reading those passages that I accidentally skipped. I can’t tell you how many nights I have fallen asleep book in hand too tired to turn the light off.

In this case, allowing time to lapse before writing, enabled me to let the words percolate. I found an interesting thing occurred in not being able, or wishing to, sit down and write my thoughts on the novel immediately upon finishing that last sentence. I found as distance came between me and the story I liked it less and less.

Overall, this is a good, strong, interesting read with a lively, albeit sad, storyline and characters that were engaging. In a nut shell: apes are stolen from a research lab and placed in a confined space where they are then “put on display” in an ethically suspect manner relevant to today’s techno-media saturated world.

In time, however, I think I began to spot the disappointing aspects of the narrative rather than drawing upon the more interesting or enlightening ones. There are threads laid down, hinted at, but never followed up on. The outcome was perhaps (spoiler alert!) too conventional, cute and neat. I also, full disclosure, wasn’t in the mood for the sadder parts of the novel, the ones that expose cruelty to animals that while talked about in a fictional setting your mind can’t help but translate details to an imagined real life.

In the end, it was an average read but not one that will top my list. It carried me all the way to the last page at least, even if, in time, I was more and more disappointed with the outcomes. I sought more depth, more intrigue, less of the sadder details.

It is a good time to confess that two books on my summer read list have now been removed: I started Sing You Home, abandoned it as not that interesting, and Every Last One broke my heart too much to finish, to struggle through.

There is, in committing myself to time alone to meditate, reflect, imagine, create and refuel from my days a desire to find activities that maximize those precious seconds. I can’t manage boredom (wasteful!) and sadness, well I need a happy place right now. It is not an unwillingness to confront the truths of the world, just an imposed, temporary blindness except where it touches or transforms me necessarily.

I am now reading The Birth House by Ami McKay.


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