Ape House Discussion Journal

Everyone was quiet, eyes roving and heads turning slightly as I asked if anyone wanted to be the first to share their review of Ape House by Sara Gruen. I shared a missing member’s remark that it was a “fun read.” One member then said that she reads the book club books and always learns something new. So, my next question was whether anyone else, like me, had not known about bonobos before this book. And we were off! 

What exactly is the difference between bonobos and chimpanzees? Bonobos have a more slender build, finer hair, redder lips, can walk more upright, and are a matriarchal society that tends to be less violent than chimpanzees’ patriarchal society.  Bonobos in the wild also live only in the Congo basin.  We watched a YouTube video that made these differences clear. We had more questions than any of us could answer and we watched a few more videos.

Our opinion of the story, however, was much less enthusiastic. The relationship between John and his wife was just not believable.  It reminded me of another book club selection, Landline, which was one of our least favorite books of 2016! Would the appearance of a Hollywood writer be so important to cause her to have plastic surgery? The author’s book Water for Elephants was made into a movie, so perhaps she had experience with such Hollywood absurdity (my words). And what about the meth house, the crack dog, and John’s DNA dilemma? Green hair, pink hair, and a pet fish? Figuratively, there were a lot of ape houses in this book! At least one of us, and probably more, wanted to see John and Isabel get together. Many of us just wanted to get back to the bonobos.

I had wanted to read this book because I believed we would all like a book about animals that wasn’t depressing. As I watched some videos in preparation for the discussion, I was a little concerned about the emphasis on humans as primates and evolution. This is a library book club and although we don’t want to avoid sensitive topics, we also don’t want to take sides. We provide information, materials, and spaces for discussion. No one seemed offended or concerned, just thoughtful, as always. Bonobos are known as the make love not war apes. Fascinating and endangered. Our discussions are always fascinating and I hope they will never be endangered!

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