Monday, September 6, 2010

Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen is the author of the #1 bestselling novel Water for Elephants, as well as the bestseller Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, and the newly released Ape House.

From her Powell's Q & A:

Describe your latest book.

Ape House is about a family of language-competent bonobo apes who are kidnapped from their home and mysteriously reappear a few months later as the stars of a reality TV show being filmed in a remote town in New Mexico.

Their main caretaker at the Great Ape Language Lab, Isabel Duncan, has an easier time relating to animals than she does to other humans. And she's not alone. We live in a world full of the faux intimacy that reality television and sites like Facebook have created. We have all this very superficial contact with and information about other people, and yet all this increased information has made it more difficult to form actual relationships. Isabel does not know how to connect. But all that changes when an explosion rocks the lab and her ape family is taken from her. She's set on a collision course with the human race, mostly in the form of a very married journalist who sees her ape family's abduction as the story of a lifetime.

I structured Ape House like a thriller — I like plot twists and forward motion — but I used that structure to explore the themes of what it means to be family, how we relate to each other in society, sexuality and the social strictures surrounding it, the phenomena of tabloid journalism and reality TV and what these indicate about our culture, and I transposed these elements against the culture of the peaceful, egalitarian, and extremely amorous bonobo ape. For many years, people have argued that since violence, murder, and warfare are part of chimpanzee society, they are also hardwired into us. The recently discovered and relatively unknown bonobo is as closely related to us as chimpanzees, and provides humans with a very different model for behavior, one that encompasses empathy, sharing, and an abhorrence for violence.

Essentially, it calls into question our assumptions about what it means to be human.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

I went to Hemingway House in Key West for four years in a row with the sole purpose of getting the cats hammered. I bought tons of catnip (they sell it in the gift shop), and got the cats so stoned they were lolling about on the lawn letting the other visitors rub their tummies (and occasionally administering a chomp, because, as every cat person knows, a tummy rub can go bad). I really want a Hemingway cat.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Sara Gruen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue