Monday, June 6, 2011

Not Going Ape over Ape House

Without question, I have been a picky reader much longer than I was ever a picky eater (although now only my elementary report cards bear testament to that former affliction, which I wish had lasted into adulthood). There are some authors (whom I will not name for fear of offending others whose literary palates differ from mine) whose works I will not read--or even pick up. I think of one, beloved by high school girls everywhere, who spoke at a national conference I attended a few years ago. I skipped the session and chose, instead, to line up at the UPS office in the hotel to mail home my free books. Right behind me was the woman tapped to introduce the man. She had stayed long enough to do her job--then left without hearing him speak. I understand that.

Sometimes, though, I'll find myself loving a book that my friends or colleagues scorn or criticize. I may understand their opinions and choose to like the book anyway. As a rule, I can buy into "the willing suspension of disbelief." While I am deeply satisfied by a satisfying ending, I don't even require a happy ending, or a tidy ending. No resolution? That's fine as long as it's not just a pretense to make way for a sequel. (I quit reading James Patterson after one book, threads left hanging everywhere.)

I have been listening to the audiobook of Sara Gruen's Ape House. I loved Water for Elephants. This new book has come recommended by people I trust. Maybe the listening experience contributed to my disillusionment, but I think not. The underlying premise was clever and quirky. Who doesn't find the apes who can communicate in ASL fascinating? Gruen also does a remarkable job building uncomfortable tension and suspense, compelling me to keep reading (okay, listening), but the thread of the story involving John Thigpen (derisively called Pigpen) and his wife, the aspiring author, was too unbelievable. Over and over, I wanted to yell, not at them, but at the author: He wouldn't have said that, done that. . . . She would never have acted that way one instant and then this way the next.

I found myself wishing this had been one of those "choose your own adventure" books, giving me some editorial say so. I wanted to give obvious advice to the characters. I don't think the book would have ended far sooner had I done so. Spoiler alert: Who in her right mind would adopt a meth lab pitbull that had escaped a crippling explosion and sneaked his way into an unrelated man's hotel room? A dog named Booger? Who would have made the dog wear sweaters? Who would have been distracted by the dog for an hour or more after finding her husband's hotel room ashtrays overflowing with lipsticked cigarette butts and stinking of smoke and cheap perfume?

But I finished the book, and I'll continue to find the Bonobos fascinating. Now, though, I'm ready to go on to my next possibly great read.

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