When animal behaviorist Guy Schermerhorn demonstrates on a TV game show that he has taught Sam, his juvenile chimp, to speak in sign language, Aimee Villard, an undergraduate at Guy's university, is so taken with the performance that she applies to become his assistant. A romantic and intellectual attachment soon morphs into an interspecies love triangle.
Howlingly marvelous ... The novel is one of Boyle’s recent best, as good as his previous novel...a National Book Award finalist ... Boyle’s masterly storytelling and shrewd social commentary have much in common with Charles Dickens; his laid-back, colloquial prose is maximalist rather than minimalist, with a touch of acute satire ... Taken out of context — like scenes in much of Dickens — these may sound absurd and melodramatic, but Boyle renders them believable ... If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief about anthropomorphism, you’ll enjoy this gripping and inescapably bittersweet book, in which Boyle suggests our debt to our predetermined animal natures.
Boyle eloquently lays out the philosophical and ethical debates of raising chimps in a human household ... Boyle poignantly exposes our anthropocentric biases while exploring the nature of consciousness and reminds us of the adage about the most dangerous species in the zoo being the humans.
His odd new novel tills this familiar terrain ... Aimee is the kind of sullen, milky-skinned antiheroine Jennifer Jason Leigh made a career out of playing in the 1990s, and just as irritating. Though it’s made clear that Sam has given her a much-needed sense of purpose, the motivation behind her slavish devotion to a rambunctious chimp is never meaningfully explored. She merely assumes the thankless role of Guy’s moral compass, taking increasingly desperate measures to protect Sam from other venal malefactors who see him only as a meal ticket ... The book rotates among the perspectives of Guy, Aimee and Sam, and Boyle is to be commended for tackling such an audacious task: It takes courage to devote a third of your novel to the imagined, often incoherent thoughts of a chimpanzee and trust that your readers will happily tag along ... Boyle’s human characters are deeply flawed people whose layers might have proved interesting to peel back. But their veneers remain intact, none of them plumbed in any way that makes them accessible or even mildly interesting, leaving you longing for their comeuppance rather than their redemption ... Boyle also has a pacing issue ... Why did Aimee need Sam so much? And why did he instantly bond with her, and only her, from the moment they met? How much can chimps really comprehend, learn, think? All interesting questions raised and, alas, never really answered. In the end, Boyle delivers a dour, hollow resolution that leaves you wondering what, exactly, the point of the whole escapade was: That apes are just apes? That humans suck? That science carries its own terrible moral costs? Maybe all of them. Or none of them. Without richer, more fleshed-out characters and motives, it all feels like just another cup of coffee at Tom’s diner.