Sara is a Canadian-born dual citizen (Canadian and American) who moved to the States in 1999 for a technical writing job. When she was laid off two years later, instead of looking for another job, she decided to take a gamble on writing fiction full-time. Sara lives with her husband, three children, two dogs, four cats, two horses and a goat in North Carolina. Sara already has her eye on another horse and a donkey.
Gruen enjoys minimal luck in trying to recapture the magic of her enormously successful Water for Elephants in this clumsy outing that begins with the bombing of the Great Ape Language Lab, a university research center dedicated to the study of the communicative behavior of bonobo apes. The blast, which terrorizes the apes and severely injures scientist Isabel Duncan, occurs one day after Philadelphia Inquirer reporter John Thigpen visits the lab and speaks to the bonobos, who answer his questions in sign language. After a series of personal setbacks, Thigpen pursues the story of the apes and the explosions for a Los Angeles tabloid, encountering green-haired vegan protesters and taking in a burned-out meth lab's guard dog. Meanwhile, as Isabel recovers from her injuries, the bonobos are sold and moved to New Mexico, where they become a media sensation as the stars of a reality TV show. Unfortunately, the best characters in this overwrought novel don't have the power of speech, and while Thigpen is mildly amusing, Isabel is mostly inert. In Elephants, Gruen used the human-animal connection to conjure bigger themes; this is essentially an overblown story about people and animals, with explosions added for effect. (Sept.) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
The result of extensive research at the Great Ape Trust research facility in Des Moines, this fourth novel from Gruen (following the phenomenal Water for Elephants) has the dramatic tension of a crime thriller. Isabel Duncan is both scientist and den mother to six bonobos, outgoing, intelligent, and mischievous great apes who use American Sign Language and graphic symbols to communicate. Without warning, an explosion shatters their orderly existence. Were the animal rights protesters, an annoying presence outside the lab, behind this vicious act? Isabel spends weeks in the hospital and then can barely function when she learns that her six much loved bonobos have been stolen. With the help of lab intern Celia and two computer hacker friends, a sympathetic tabloid reporter, and an unforgettable Russian prostitute, Isabel wins out over a porn producer with the hottest reality show idea ever. Twists and turns, lies, and treachery abound in this funny, clever, and perceptive story. VERDICT Although the book is somewhat flawed by an abundance of stock characters, Gruen's achievement is nevertheless significant not only in illuminating the darkest corners of animal research but also in showing the depth of human-animal relationships. This will draw both confirmed and new devotees of Gruen's fiction. A perfectly plotted good read. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/10.]-Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.