Ape House by Sara GruenApe House by Sara Gruen

Ape House

bySara Gruen

Paperback | April 5, 2011

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Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships - but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.

Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn't understand people, but animals she gets - especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she's ever felt among humans… until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what's really going on inside.

When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and "liberating" the apes, John's human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he'll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest - and unlikeliest - phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.

Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen's place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.

From the Hardcover edition.
Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of At the Water's Edge, Water for Elephants, Ape House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. Water for Elephants was adapted into a major motion picture star...
Title:Ape HouseFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8.02 × 5.19 × 0.73 inPublished:April 5, 2011Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385664451

ISBN - 13:9780385664455


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking, Worth the read I really enjoyed this book. Sara Gruen is becoming one of my favourite authors. Her character development and good balance of the story of the reporter, and apes made this a great read! Once I got into it, was hard to put down! Definitely recommend reading for my animal lovers out there. Will pick up another Sara Gruen book because of it!
Date published: 2017-12-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Funny and thought-provoking It's a well-told caper story that sets an animal rights scenario against a backdrop of modern American excesses. I really enjoyed it. It serves as a good companion piece to Karen Joy Fowler's "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves."
Date published: 2017-10-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting Not what I was expecting, but it was good.
Date published: 2017-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't put it down I read this book in 1 night, the apes were very interesting and the novel intertwined the lives of a reporter and the apes caretaker very well.
Date published: 2017-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lovely novel that will make want to learn more about Great Apes In Ape House, a touching story written by Sara Gruen of Water for Elephants fame, Isabel Duncan is a scientist that researches and cares for six bonobos at a research facility affiliated with a university. These bonobos are special because they are able to communicate with humans using American Sign Language. Shortly after a journalist visits the bonobos, the research facility is hit by a bomb that severely injures Isabella. While she’s recuperating. the apes are sold and Isabella, normally reserved, finds herself reaching out to others to save the apes from exploitation. As with Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen delivers an entertaining novel that also educates the reader on aspects of animal cruelty. In this case, the treatment that apes receive at the hands of scientists at pharmaceutical companies. The book also touches on the amazing research being done by places such as the Great Ape Trust where scientists are studying language acquisition and other behavioural traits in bonobos, chimps, and orangutans. I really enjoyed reading about the bonobos and their individual personalities. I loved the Isabel Duncan character for her dedication to the bonobos which she describes as her family. My only complaint is that I found some of the characters in the book superfluous and a bit annoying. I found myself racing through these bits so that I could get back to the main bonobo-centric story-line. I was so engrossed with this book that I missed my bus stop while on my way home one evening. Overall, Ape House is an entertaining and captivating read that may inspire readers to learn more about the preservation and protection of the Great Apes.
Date published: 2016-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome writer I read this book in a day. I Couldnt put it down. The characters were interesting and you fall in love with them. The plot was spellbinding and unlike anything I have ever read before. Tugged at my heart and I found myself happy, sad and very mad throughout and that doesnt happen for me while reading as much as I would like it to.
Date published: 2015-04-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Enjoyed I have read all of Sara Gruen's books and so when this book came out I knew that I wanted to read it right away. Even though I went out and bought this book it still took me quite a bit of time to actually pick it up. In fact, I ended up listening to an audio version of the novel. I have to admit that it took me a little bit of time to get into the audio version of the book. I think it had something to do with the person narrating. From time to time they mispronounced words and every time it had me thinking: have I been saying that word wrong this whole time? It kind of drove me a bit bonkers. Despite the fact that I couldn't get into the narration, this is a well written novel. I just love Gruen's writing style and I love that her books always have an animal component to it. You can tell by her writing that she adores animals. In this novel, the focus is on bonobo great apes. These apes have been taught to sign and have grown quite fond of their handler Isabel. One day, a group of protesters bomb the ape's home and as a result the apes are sold to someone in the television world. This results in a reality style TV show about the bonobos. I liked how the book weaved between the perspective of Isabel and the perspective of John, a reporter. The back and forth really helped to give a full picture of what was going on. It was also neat to read from the perspective of both a male and a female. There were plenty of serious parts to this book but Gruen also threw in a few humorous parts as well. I also really liked learning about bonobo apes. It was quite informative and it really made me want to research more. Overall I only gave this book 3.5 stars out of 5. While it was entertaining, I wasn't as invested in the story as I have been in Sara Gruen's other novels. I am not sure this had anything to do with the writing and more to do with the fact that I have been in a reading slump. If you were a fan of Water for Elephant, then I would suggest reading this book.
Date published: 2014-08-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really liked this Isabel is running a study of bonobos learning sign language and communicating with humans. Her entire world changes (as does the bonobos' world) when there is an explosion in the lab, Isabel is hurt, and the bonobos are taken away. Isabel is on a mission to find them, as she considers them her family. I really liked this, but then, I love animals! The sign language studies are fascinating. I have to say that I'm glad I was reading this at home at the point where Isabel went through a place that does testing/experimentation on animals. That was super-tough to read (yet sadly, those places are out there). I did make the mistake of reading a few reviews the day I started reading it, so I did read something that I would have preferred not to know, but that was my mistake. My copy had an Author's Note and a Reader's Guide at the end where Gruen talked about her research for the book, which I always find interseting. You can tell, even without reading that, though, that how much she loves animals, herself.
Date published: 2013-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVED IT This book just secured itself a spot on my favourite books shelf. I would put this book within my top 5 favourite books I have ever read. Sara Gruen has once again held me captive with her amazing ability to get the reader so involved in the story. I loved the story from the first page and I found it so hard to put down. I wasn't sure that any book could match Gruen's Water for Elephants, but now Gruen is the author to 2 of my favourite books. I look forward to reading her future novels
Date published: 2011-11-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Nice change “Ape House” is a light read that attempts to open the animal world to us by bringing the Bonobos Apes to life in an original way. This is a story about a family of Bonobos, their caretaker scientist Isabel Duncan and a down to earth reporter John Thigpen. I will cover the plotting in a few words, it begins with the primate language laboratory being bombed and Isabel left badly injured, severe enough to end up in the trauma ward of the closest hospital. The Bonobos fall into the hands of a porn producer and are locked up in a house with cameras broadcasting their every move on cable television. Reporter John Thigpen covers the story while his personal life is on a down turn, his home life it is about to take a drastic change. The plotting gets meatier when Isabel is released from hospital and teams up with John to find out who targeted the laboratory, for what reason and what has happened to her family of apes. The story explores in a far-fetched semi captivating manner, the issue of animal rights from the point of view of activists, scientists and the public. The plot takes a meandering course with a bit of action here and there mostly done by the humans, there are also subtle references to sexual activities amongst the apes and their unique methods of communication. I found this part satire and part morality driven tale was presented to us by a cast of lackluster and easily forgotten characters, maybe if the Bonobos had been given a greater role it would have left a more lasting impression. Unfortunately the book started strong just to peter out by the end, I was disappointed when the tale did not capture the apes’ behaviour, gestures and emotions in a more detailed fashion. Although the story was not what I had anticipated, I nevertheless enjoyed the change.
Date published: 2011-09-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well done! Enjoyed "Ape House". Maybe not quite so much as "Water for Elephants", but it was good. Hard to put down, wanted to read it all in a single sitting (but work didn't allow :( At times the plot was a bit fantastical, and wasn't sure if the author intended that, but once I let go of my more serious side it was a great read. Left me wanting to have a conversation with bonobos...:)
Date published: 2011-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Absolutely great! This was an amazing book. There was tons of information about bonobos, while still keeping you interested. And the story line was brilliant! A must read!!
Date published: 2010-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mesmerizing!!! Bonzi, Makena, Sam, Lola, Jelani, and Mbongo are Bonobo apes who live in luxury at the Great Ape Language Lab under the careful eye of Isabel Duncan a scientist. These apes are able to reason, carry on relationships and can communicate with humans through American Sign Language. They are extremely intelligent animals. A reporter named John Thigpen comes to Isabel’s lab to see and interview both Isabel and the Bonobo’s as an interest piece for his newspaper. Little did John and Isabel know that this particular piece was going to turn out to be the biggest story of their entire lives. An serious and highly damaging explosion at the lab severely injures Isabel and the apes go missing until a reality television show featuring the missing Bonobos airs on t.v. Millions of people are literally glued to their t.v. sets watching the everyday lives of the apes. They order greasy take-out, eat hamburgers one after the other totally ruining their careful diet that was fed to them at the Language Lab. They are also signing on t.v. for Isabel to come and get them, but where are they? Once out of the hospital, Isabel now sets out to find who has the apes and where they are being housed but it won’t be easy. She is forced to get mixed up with some pretty sleazy people. Will Isabel ever find her beloved Bonobos? Sara Gruen has written another mesmerizing story that will keep you turning page after page. For those of you who read Sara’s other novel: “Water for Elephants” won’t be disappointed with this one either. This is a novel that everyone should read!!
Date published: 2010-11-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from DIDN'T TUG MY HEARTSTRINGS Isabell Duncan is a research scientist studying language through teaching bonobo apes sign language. Her lab is blown up shortly after a visit from reporter John Thigpen, and the apes are unharmed but no longer in Isabell’s control. The resulting storyline of the book is the search for the missing Bonobo apes. I loved WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and unfortunately can not say the same thing for this book. Although is was an entertaining read and obviously well researched, it did not have the character and flow of her previous book. In my personal opinion Ms. Gruen tries to tackle too many topics in this book … animal research, animal rights, reality television, prostitution, pornography, meth labs, the “Hollywood experience” and one too many relationship issues. It made for a bit of a disjointed story. Even the characters are a bit cliche ... the meddling mother-in-law, the almost perfect wife, the hooker with a heart of gold and the hero reporter. This one just didn't pull the heartstrings for me in the way I had anticipated.
Date published: 2010-10-29

Read from the Book

1 The plane had yet to take off, but Osgood, the photographer, was already snoring softly. He was in the center seat, wedged between John Thigpen and a woman in coffee-colored stockings and sensible shoes. He listed heavily toward the latter, who, having already made a great point of lowering the armrest, was progressively becoming one with the wall. Osgood was blissfully unaware. John glanced at him with a pang of envy; their editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer was loath to spring for hotels and had insisted that they complete their visit to the Great Ape Language Lab in a single day. And so, despite seeing in the New Year the night before, John, Cat, and Osgood had all been on the 6 a.m. flight to Kansas City that same morning. John would have loved to close his eyes for a few minutes, even at the risk of accidentally cozying up to Osgood, but he needed to expand his notes while the details were fresh. John’s knees did not fit within his allotted space, so he turned them outward into the aisle. Because Cat was behind him, reclining his seat was not an option. He was well aware of her mood. She had an entire row to herself—an unbelievable stroke of luck—but she had just asked the flight attendant for two gins and a tonic. Apparently having three seats to herself was not enough to offset the trauma of having spent her day poring over linguistics texts when she had been expecting to meet six great apes. Although she’d tried to disguise the symptoms of her cold ahead of time and explain away the residual as allergies, Isabel Duncan, the scientist who had greeted them, sussed her out immediately and banished her to the Linguistics Department. Cat had turned on her legendary charm, which she reserved for only the most dire of circumstances, but Isabel had been like Teflon. Bonobos and humans share 98.7 percent of their DNA, she’d said, which makes them susceptible to the same viruses. She couldn’t risk exposing them, particularly as one was pregnant. Besides, the Linguistics Department had fascinating new data on the bonobos’ vocalizations. And so a disappointed, sick, and frustrated Cat spent the afternoon at Blake Hall hearing about the dynamic shape and movement of tongues while John and Osgood visited the apes. “You were behind glass anyway, right?” Cat complained in the taxi afterward. She was crammed between John and Osgood, both of whom kept their heads turned toward their respective windows in a futile attempt to avoid germs. “I don’t see how I could have given them anything from behind glass. I would have stood at the back of the room if she’d asked me. Hell, I’d have worn a gas mask.” She paused to snort Afrin up both nostrils and then honked mightily into a tissue. “Do you have any idea what I went through today?” she continued. “Their lingo is completely incomprehensible. I was already in trouble at ‘discourse.’ Next thing I knew it was ‘declarative illocutionary point’ this, ‘deontic modality’ that, blah blah blah.” She emphasized the “blahs” with her hands, waving the Afrin bottle in one and the crumpled tissue in the other. “I almost lost it on ‘rank lexical relation.’ Sounds like a smelly, overly chatty uncle, doesn’t it? How on earth do they think I’m going to be able to work that into a newspaper piece?” John and Osgood exchanged a silent, relieved glance when they got their seat assignments for the trip home. John didn’t know Osgood’s take on today’s experience—they hadn’t had a moment alone—but for John, something massive had shifted. He’d had a two-way conversation with great apes. He’d spoken to them in English, and they’d responded using American Sign Language, all the more remarkable because it meant they were competent in two human languages. One of the apes, Bonzi, arguably knew three: she was able to communicate by computer using a specially designed set of lexigrams. John also hadn’t realized the complexity of their native tongue—during the visit, the bonobos had clearly demonstrated their ability to vocalize specific information, such as flavors of yogurt and locations of hidden objects, even when unable to see each other. He’d looked into their eyes and recognized without a shadow of a doubt that sentient, intelligent beings were looking back. It was entirely different from peering into a zoo enclosure, and it changed his comprehension of the world in such a profound way he could not yet articulate it. Being cleared by Isabel Duncan was only the first step in getting inside the apes’ living quarters. After Cat’s banishment to Blake Hall, Osgood and John were taken into an administrative office to wait while the apes were consulted. John had been told ahead of time that the bonobos had final say over who came into their home, and also that they’d been known to be fickle: over the past two years, they’d allowed in only about half of their would-be visitors. Knowing this, John had stacked his odds as much as possible. He researched the bonobos’ tastes online and bought a backpack for each, which he stuffed with favorite foods and toys—bouncy balls, fleece blankets, xylophones, Mr. Potato Heads, snacks, and anything else he thought they might find amusing. Then he emailed Isabel Duncan and asked her to tell the bonobos he was bringing surprises. Despite his efforts, John found that his forehead was beaded with sweat by the time Isabel returned from the consultation and informed him that not only were the apes allowing Osgood and him to come in, they were insisting. She led them into the observation area, which was separated from the apes by a glass partition. She took the backpacks, disappeared into a hallway, reappeared on the other side of the glass, and handed them to the apes. John and Osgood stood watching as the bonobos unpacked their gifts. John was so close to the partition his nose and forehead were touching it. He’d almost forgotten it was there, so when the M&M’s surfaced and Bonzi leapt up to kiss him through the glass, he nearly fell backward. Although John already knew that the bonobos’ preferences varied (for example, he knew Mbongo’s favorite food was green onions and that Sam loved pears), he was surprised by how distinct, how differentiated, how almost human, they were: Bonzi, the matriarch and undisputed leader, was calm, assured, and thoughtful, if unnervingly fond of M&M’s. Sam, the oldest male, was outgoing and charismatic, and entirely certain of his own magnetism. Jelani, an adolescent male, was an unabashed show-off with boundless energy and a particular love of leaping up walls and then flipping over backward. Makena, the pregnant one, was Jelani’s biggest fan, but was also exceedingly fond of Bonzi and spent long periods grooming her, sitting quietly and picking through her hair, with the result that Bonzi was balder than the others. The infant, Lola, was indescribably cute and also a stitch—John witnessed her yank a blanket out from under Sam’s head while he was resting and then come barreling over to Bonzi for protection, signing, bad surprise! bad surprise! (According to Isabel, messing with another bonobo’s nest was a major transgression, but there was another rule that trumped it: in their mothers’ eyes, bonobo babies could do no wrong.) Mbongo, the other adult male, was smaller than Sam and of a more sensitive nature: he opted out of further conversations with John after John unwittingly misinterpreted a game called Monster Chase. Mbongo put on a gorilla mask, which was John’s cue to act terrified and let Mbongo chase him. Unfortunately, nobody had told John, who didn’t even realize Mbongo was wearing a mask until the ape gave up and pulled it off, at which point John laughed. This was so devastating that Mbongo turned his back and flatly refused to acknowledge John from that point forward. Isabel eventually cheered him up by playing the game properly, but he declined to interact with John for the rest of the visit, which left John feeling as if he’d slapped a baby. “Excuse me.” John looked up to find a man standing in the aisle, unable to move past John’s legs. John shifted sideways and wrangled them into Osgood’s space, which elicited a grunt. When the man passed, John returned his legs to the aisle and as he did so caught sight of a woman three rows up holding a book whose familiar cover shot a jolt of adrenaline through him. It was his wife’s debut novel, although she had recently forbidden him from using that particular phrase since it was beginning to look as though her debut novel was also going to be her last. Back when The River Wars first came out and John and Amanda were still feeling hopeful, they had coined the phrase “a sighting in the wild” to describe finding some random person in the act of reading it. Until this moment it had been theoretical. John wished Amanda had been the one to experience it. She was in desperate need of cheering up, and he’d very nearly concluded that he was helpless in that department. John checked for the location of the flight attendant. She was in the galley, so he whipped out his cell phone, rose slightly out of his seat, and snapped a picture. The drinks cart returned; Cat bought more gin, John ordered coffee, and Osgood continued to rumble subterraneously while his human cushion glowered. John got out his laptop and started a new file: Similar to chimpanzees in appearance but with slimmer build, longer limbs, flatter brow ridge. Black or dusky gray faces, pink lips. Black hair parted down the center. Expressive eyes and faces. High-pitched and frequent vocalizations. Matriarchal, egalitarian, peaceful. Extremely amorous. Intense female bonding. Although John had known something of the bonobos’ demonstrative nature, he had been initially caught off-guard at the frequency of their sexual contact, particularly between females. A quick genital rub seemed as casual as a handshake. There were predictable occurrences, such as immediately before sharing food, but mostly there was no rhyme or reason that John could ascertain. John sipped his coffee and considered. What he really needed to do was transcribe the interview with Isabel while he could still recall and annotate the non-aural details: her expressions and gestures, and the moment—unexpected and lovely—when she’d broken into ASL. He plugged his earphones into his voice recorder, and began: ID: So this is the part where we talk about me? JT: Yes. ID: [nervous laugh] Great. Can we talk about someone else instead? JT: Nope. Sorry. ID: I was afraid of that. JT: So what made you get into this type of work? ID: I was taking a class with Richard Hughes—he’s the one who founded the lab—and he talked a little about the work he was doing. I was utterly fascinated. JT: He passed away recently, didn’t he? ID: Yes. [pause] Pancreatic cancer. JT: I’m sorry. ID: Thank you. JT: So anyway, this class. Was it linguistics? Zoology? ID: Psychology. Behavioral psychology. JT: Is that what your degree is in? ID: My first one. I think originally I thought it might help me understand my family—wait, can you please scratch that? JT: Scratch what? ID: That bit about my family. Can you take it out? JT: Sure. No problem. ID: [makes gesture of relief] Whew. Thanks. Okay, so basically I was this aimless first-year kid taking a psychology class, and I heard about the ape project and I went, and after I met the apes I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I can’t really describe it adequately. I begged and pleaded with Dr. Hughes to be allowed to do something, anything. I would mop floors, clean toilets, do laundry, just to be near them. They just . . . [long pause, faraway look] . . . I don’t know if I can say what it is. It just . . . is. I felt very strongly that this was where I belonged. JT: So he let you. ID: Not quite. [laughs] He told me that if I took a comprehensive linguistics course over the summer, read all his work, and came back to him fluent in ASL he’d think about it. JT: And did you? ID: [seems surprised] Yeah. I did. It was the hardest summer of my life. That’s like telling someone to go off and become fluent in Japanese over four months. ASL is not simply signed English—it’s a unique language, with a unique syntax. It’s usually time-topic-comment-oriented, although like English, there’s variability. For instance, you could say [starts signing], “Day-past me eat cherries,” or you could say, “Day-past eat cherries me.” But that is not to say that ASL doesn’t also use the subject-verb-object structure; it simply doesn’t use “state-of-being” verbs. JT: You’re losing me. ID: [laughs] Sorry. JT: So you came back, you blew him out of the water, and you got the job. ID: I don’t know about blowing him out of the water . . . JT: Tell me about the apes. ID: What about them? JT: Seeing you with them today, and then speaking with them myself, and then managing to actually insult one of them—that was an eye-opener. ID: He got over it. JT: No. He didn’t. But do you understand how strange that whole thing would seem to your average, everyday person? The concept that you can insult an animal in a social situation and have to make it up to him? And possibly fail? That you can have a two-way conversation with apes, in human language no less, and they’re doing it simply because they want to? ID: By Jove, I think he’s got it! JT: I suppose I had that coming. ID: I’m sorry. But yes, that’s the entire point of our work. Apes acquire language through exposure and a desire to communicate, just like human infants, and age-wise there is approximately the same window of opportunity. Although I’d like to branch out a little going forward. JT: How so? ID: Bonobos have their own language. You saw that today—Sam told Bonzi exactly where he’d hidden the key, even though they were in separate rooms and couldn’t see each other. She went straight for it and never looked anywhere else. We may never be able to use their vocalizations to communicate with them for the same reasons they can’t use spoken English—our vocal tracts are shaped too differently, which we think is related to the HAR1 gene sequence, but I think it’s high time someone made an attempt to decode it. JT: About the sex. ID: What about it? JT: There’s just so much of it. And they’re so . . . virtuosic. It’s clearly not just about procreation. ID: Absolutely right. Bonobos—along with dolphins and humans—are the only animals known to have recreational sex. JT: Why do they do that? ID: Why do you do it? JT: Uh . . . Okay. Moving right along. ID: I’m sorry. That’s a fair question. We believe it’s a mechanism to relieve tension, resolve conflict, and reaffirm friendship, although it also has to do with the size of the females’ clitorises and that they are sexually receptive regardless of estrus. Whether this shapes or reflects bonobo culture is a matter of scientific debate, but there are several related factors: food is abundant in their natural habitat, which means the females aren’t in competition to feed their babies. They form strong friendships and band together to “correct” aggressive males, thus keeping those genes from entering the pool, and so, unlike chimpanzees, male bonobos do not practice infanticide. Maybe it’s because no male has any idea which babies are his, or maybe it’s bec ause the males who are allowed to breed don’t care and that trait ispassed along. Or maybe it’s because the females would rip him to shreds. Like I said, it’s a matter of some debate. JT: Do you think the apes know they’re apes, or do they think they’re human? ID: They know they’re apes, but I don’t think it means what you think it does. JT: Explain. ID: They know they’re bonobos and they know we’re human, but it doesn’t imply mastery, or superiority, or anything of the sort. We are, all of us, collaborators. We are, in fact, family.  John clicked off his voice recorder and closed the lid of his laptop. He’d have loved to follow up on the family thing, but since she’d backtracked immediately he left it alone. It was also interesting that she’d later called the bonobos her family. Maybe he could coax her into opening up in a follow-up interview. They’d definitely made a connection—a connection that he worried might have crossed over into flirtation at one point, although with each passing mile he felt better about that. She was unquestionably attractive, slim-hipped and athletic with straight blond hair that fell almost to her waist, but her charm was frank and earnest: she wore no makeup or jewelry of any kind, and John doubted she recognized her own appeal. Friendly is what they’d been; maybe she’d eventually trust him with her messy family history. It was the sort of detail readers loved, although this piece already promised to have plenty of those. She’d made another interesting comment when she put on the gorilla mask and gave a proper demonstration of Monster Chase. After she “caught” Mbongo, they’d rolled around on the floor tickling each other and laughing (hers was full and high-pitched, his a nearly silent wheezing, but the expression on his face left no question that it was laughter). John was shocked at the level of roughhousing going on, having been given to believe that working with great apes was extremely dangerous. Even though he’d read that bonobos were different, he hadn’t expected her to be so physical with them. His surprise must have been evident, because when she stopped she said, “Over the years, they’ve become more human, and I’ve become more bonobo,” and in that moment he’d felt a flash of understanding, like he’d been allowed to peek briefly through the crack.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. The bonobos in Ape House are described as matriarchal, with Bonzi acting as the nurturing and intelligent "undisputed leader" (p. 6) of the group. Discuss how Bonzi's relationship with her family compares or contrasts with the various human characters' relationships with their own families. Consider Amanda's desire - and Ivanka's - to have children in your discussion.2. What does the success of the show Ape House reveal about human society? Why do you think its audience finds it especially compelling? How does it compare to the other types of media discussed in the novel?3. Why is Isabel so attached to the bonobos? What does she enjoy about their company (and that of Stuart, her late fish) that other people do not offer her? What prevents her from connecting at the beginning, and how does that change by the end?4. Isabel says, "[The bonobos] know they're bonobos and they know we're human, but it doesn't imply mastery, or superiority" (p. 10). The bonobos are clearly sentient animals, demonstrating the use of both language and tools, two criteria often cited as proof of the separation between humans and other primates. What, then, actually separates us from them?5. "At this moment, the story in his head was perfect. [John] also knew from experience that it would degenerate the second he started typing, because such was the nature of writing" (p. 215). John and Amanda are both writers who struggle to maintain integrity while making a living. Discuss the importance of writing, language, and creativity in the novel, as well as the compromises the characters are forced to accept.6. In Ape House, Sara Gruen uses humor to reveal the many flaws of human society. Is this device effective for revealing human foibles? Did you identify with her portrayal of human behavior?7. Which of the human characters in Ape House is most like a bonobo?8. Contrast the physical and emotional transformations of Isabel and Amanda. What are the reasons for their change? How does it affect both of them and their relationships with the other characters?9. Do you think the use of animals for research, even when it does not physically or emotionally harm them, is an inherent infringement upon the animal's free will, as the ELL would argue? Or is there a way for animal-related research to be beneficial to human society while also protecting and respecting the animals' rights? Discuss how Ape House explores the different sides of this issue.10. Over the course of the novel, John grows increasingly concerned about the possibility of having fathered a child with Ginette Pinegar, while Isabel doesn't understand why a biological link to the boy should make a difference. For the bonobos, on the other hand, the concept of paternity is irrelevant. Discuss the way Ape House deals with family structures.11. Compare the bonobos' behavior with that of the humans in the novel. Do you think of human behavior differently after reading the novel?

Editorial Reviews

"Sara Gruen’s new novel Ape House will be certain to please fans of her wildly popular 2007 novel Water for Elephants...This is a satisfying, entertaining page-turner of a novel." —Sacramento Book Review  “Gruen’s astute, wildly entertaining tale of interspecies connection is a novel of verve and conscience.” —Booklist (starred review)"Sara Gruen knows things - she knows them in her mind and in her heart. And, out of what she knows, she has created a true thriller that is addictive from its opening sentence. Devour it to find out what happens next, but also to learn remarkable and moving things about life on this planet. Very, very few novels can change the way you look at the world around you. This one does."—Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife"I read Ape House in one joyous breath. Ever an advocate for animals, Gruen brings them to life with the passion of a novelist and the accuracy of a scientist. She has already done more for bonobos than I could do in a lifetime. The novel is immaculately researched and lovingly crafted. If people fall in love with our forgotten, fascinating, endangered relative, it will be because of Ape House."—Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake"A terrific book . . . a page-turner written with flair, imagination and a sharp sense of irony." --The Globe and Mail"Gruen delivers a tale that's full of heart, hope, and compelling questions about who we really are." --Redbook"Gruen is clearly enjoying herself here. It is fun...the conceit of a household of language-endowed apes as the ne plus ultra of reality TV--leering humans greedy for profits and naughty thrills...apes who are at once innocent and more compassionate and dignified than the producers and the viewers--is terrific: an incisive piece of social commentary." --The New York Times Book Review