Ape House - Sara Gruen
I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this book. I love Water for Elephants so much. It is an amazing book. It's kind of hard to tell that the same author wrote this one. The writing itself is fantastic. Sara Gruen has this great way of describing scenes and conveying emotion that really puts the reader in the the moment with the characters. I also found that I cared about the characters even when I didn't care (this will make sense later). The major problem with this book is that the story was fragmented and weak. It felt like two separate books with only a slight convergence until the last twenty percent or so. On one hand we have Dr. Isabel Duncan, who considers the six Bonobo apes she has been studying for the last eight years her only family. She was very sweet and so genuinely caring. A lot of tragedy she doesn't deserve befalls her. She has the type of forgiving, permissive personality that usually drives me crazy but it worked really well on her. I especially loved her strength at the end. Then there are the apes themselves. Their part of the book was really compelling and I loved all of them. I mean, how could you not? Look at them! (These are obviously Google Search images, but my point stands!) The personalities Gruen gave them made me want to cuddle them forever. With the exception of backstories they felt like fully fleshed out characters to me. I wanted to stay with the seven of them–even though apes and human were separated for a long time and there were a lot of very upsetting elements of the plot–the entire book. Unfortunately, much more of the story was spent on John Thigpen and his life. John is a reporter who started off the book visiting Isabel and the Bonobos for a story he was doing on the research at the language lab for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He soon left to return home and here is where much of his story was entirely separate from Isabel and the apes. We got a lot of in depth backstory about him and his wife, Amanda, their marital issues, her career, her family, his family, his career, and some random little side stories. It felt like it went on and on and on and definitely more time was spent on John than on the apes and Isabel and I just didn't care. Even though I did care about John and Amanda, like I said above. If I was reading them in a separate book altogether, I wouldn't have had a problem and I would have really cared about what they were going through. However, when we'd get three/four page chapters on Isabel or the apes and then spend 10+ pages with John I was nearly yelling, "OH, MY GOD. BACK TO ISABEL OR THE APES, PLEASE!!" Then add to that the fact he acted too stupid to live at some points. It was like he had never actually been in the real world before. I get some people are sheltered, but come on now. He also seemed to not get how his industry works, and he wouldn't fight for things. It was all very frustrating for me. There were a lot of clichés and predictable twists and turns. I will say a bit of what I thought was foreshadowing in the first chapter made me think that the story was going to go in a certain direction and I'm really very happy it didn't (It just surprised me since the story took so many contrived turns). And near the end there was one out of left field twist that was so absurd, improbable and unnecessary I thought for a moment I was reading a storyline on Days of Our Lives. All of that said, I was still into the climax, it just wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been if the story were stronger and less of a cliché.The ending was okay, it was satisfying and a couple of parts of it had me grinning like a fool. I have to say, I love an HEA. I really do. But there was something so, over-the-top, fan fiction-like about this one. Really, I'm fine with Isabel and the apes getting theirs. Even though it's not quite believable that she got a settlement and had a massive ape complex built all within six months. So maybe it was the perfection of John and Amanda's lives. They got to move back to NYC, he was working for a prestigious paper, got to go to Lola ya Bonobo in DROC, they were about to have their baby, her previously universally rejected book was being published a month after their baby was due (only ten months later). It was just too giant of a big, red bow.I wish this story was just as strong and lovely as Water for Elephants, but it just isn't. It wasn't terrible but it fell short. Still, I look forward to whatever Gruen chooses to write next and hope that the story complements the quality of her writing.