Read: Ape House by Sara Gruen
Drinking: India Chai Tea, Celestial Seasons
In her second novel, Gruen draws on her experiences as a writer to create strong characters that really connect with the reader. It is not the story one expects from the opening chapter. From the opening chapter, one expects an interesting, but non-challenging, plot. I am reluctant to say more for fear of spoiling, but reader be warned: this is not the book you, or protagonist John Thigpen, were expecting.
Ape House explores the themes of love and marriage most strongly. John and his wife, Amanda, have been together for half their lives. Unlike many novels women of my age read, this is not about finding the right person. This is about maintaining a marriage – facing challenges and temptations that are a natural part of life. This was probably the most real and convincing plot. It was probably intended to be a side plot, but John and Amanda’s marriage dominates the story.
The other major theme is humanity. What is it that makes us human, that separates us from great apes? The bonobos of the titular Ape House can “speak” American Sign Language, but communicate in a variety of ways. Their relationship with Isabel Duncan, the scientist who works with them at the language lab, makes John and other characters, as well as the reader, question just what it means to be human. What is it that really sets us apart from our closest genetic relatives?
I highly recommend Ape House. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, but most of all, it will make you think. That is the mark of a great novel.