Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore

I just read a great novel: The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale. Hot damn, this is one juicy read, packed with extravagant language, exuberant ideas, an outlandishly wild and wonderful plot and, unlikely as this is, deep emotion. As they say: I laughed, I cried. And thought, and am thinking still. This one will stay with me for a while.

You know how much I hate to agree with the powers that be when they grant this book or that their imprimatur, and that goes quadruple when the author is yet another young white man with an Iowa MFA. Grr. Bah! Usually I can tell by just such raves, combined with what I infer about the book's story, slant, theme, and so on, that there's no there there for the likes of me. This time, though, despite this novel's provenance smack-dab dead-center snuggled in the literary establishment's slimy embrace, my interest was sufficiently piqued that I was willing to check it out.

Wow am I glad I did. I just spent one rapturous reading week burrowed deep into a bildungsroman whose hero and narrator is a chimpanzee. A talking, walking, reading, thinking, writing—well, dictating, for his hands are ill-suited for pen and paper and he's not a very good typist, so he speaks these, his memoirs, to a young college student amanuensis—chimpanzee whose travels and travails take him deep into the heart of starkness, the perverse unnatural void that humanity, the ape that would be king, has made of itself and threatens to make of the world.

Though I don't want to overstate it and portray this as a political novel exactly, let alone one that explicitly aligns itself with our side of the class divide, there is much worth chewing on here. Bruno's tale—which entails both the extremely eventful, boisterous, rollicking narrative of his exploits and his exploitation, and his book-long lifelong reflection on our animal selves, individual and group relations, love, commerce—is packed with social commentary. Along with his own woeful yet fleetingly joyous story, in the course of 576 fast-flying pages dear Mr. Littlemore offers abundant thoughts and observations about a range of aspects of human society, from television to education to sex to politics to many apposite zingers about this debased, commodified culture. Mordant, hilarious, sad, sharp, and rife with allusions literary, historical, zoological, linguistic and more, these musings are the heart of the book.

I took The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore out of the library. If I owned it (and I'd almost say it's worth the expense just for the section on the Gnome Chompy), I'd start lending it around. Or maybe not since I like to keep my favored books nearby to gaze at and fondle. Whatever way you get your hands on it, do try to. I haven't steered you wrong yet, have I?