Sara Gruen’s Ape House
Bond Street Books, 2010

Reasons I read Water for Elephants:
1. I got tired of saying “No, I haven’t, yet”, when countless people — with all kinds of reading prefereces between them — asked me if I’d read it.
2. I love elephants (and books about elephants, too).

Reason I read Riding Lessons:
1. Water for Elephants was on my list of favourite reads for 2009.

Reasons I read Flying Changes:
1. I wanted to know how things turned out for Annemarie from Riding Lessons.
2. The horses mattered more than I thought they would.

Reasons I was desperate to read Ape House:
1. I freshly remembered how much I’d loved Water for Elephants.
2. And I loved the feeling that I had after finishing one of Sara Gruen’s novels

Reasons I’m glad I read Ape House:
1. Turns out I love bonobos as much as I love elephants.
2. I still have that same feeling after finishing one of her books.

But here’s the thing: when I take it down to nuts-and-bolts, I’m not sure that Sara Gruen’s writing is All That.

When I look at single paragraphs, I want to reshape them, tidy them.

When I look at chapters, I want to shift their emphasis and tighten and loosen them in spots.

But she reaches past my editing eye and pulls me into her stories by the heart.

Maybe it’s a cheap device, relying more on my having been raised with animal stories that entertained as often as they provoked massive bouts of weeping, than on crafting.

But I don’t see anything cheap in these stories, only authentic emotion.

And while some of the stories’ elements might have a formulaic feel to them, well, the fancier word for that is archetypal, isn’t it.

Sara Gruen’s narratives might not have the literary polish of Barbara Kingsolver or Alissa York, but her fiction takes on heavy and universal themes of belonging and justice, love and survival.

The emphasis is on story and character, and, when all is read and done, I’m also glad that she hasn’t burdened her prose with metaphors and polished her prose until you can feel its points.

Because I want everybody to read these stories. And I know that Michael Crummey’s Galore and Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues, are brilliant novels, but they are not novels that will appeal to every reader.

And I don’t simply want everyone to read Sara Gruen’s stories. I want them to love the stories in them too. And, then, visit her website and click on the Critters in Need tab, and marvel at the miraculous bits and try to rewrite the tragic parts.

Sara Gruen’s stories grab me by the heart.

Whose stories grab you by the heart?