REVIEW: The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, by Benjamin Hale

Over at Hipster Book Club my review of Benjamin Hale’s highly anticipated debut novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, is up.

Please give it a read. I’m proud of this review.

The book is about a chimp who learns to speak with humans and practically becomes a man. It was tough to pare down all the things I wanted to say. For instance, my review gives short shrift to the story’s leading lady, Lydia Littlemore. She is Bruno the chimp’s human caretaker and, eventually, his lover, so naturally she is the focus of his fascination with humanity. Bruno (the narrator) tells us everything about Lydia—EVERYTHING, including a detailed analysis of her migraines and her menstruation. But Lydia almost never speaks. She gets virtually no dialogue. I thought of Bruno as the type of jerk who introduces his wife at a party, then proceeds to talk over her, answering any questions directed her way. Lydia is the second most important character in the book, yet she’s so obstructed from view that, even after she becomes the victim of a heartbreaking crime, I couldn’t feel much of anything for her. And I figured, if the author won’t let her come alive in the book, then maybe she’s one of the things I can afford to cut from my review.

Still, the book has a number of great passages, like this one, when Bruno decides that, as a chimp in a human world, he is ugly.

I found a canister of shaving cream in the cabinet under the sink—the kind that squirts out a jet of green ooze that becomes a thick foam when one agitates its molecules by rubbing it against the skin. I stood naked in the bathtub, sopping wet, and squirted this stuff into my remaining fur and lathered it in. Then I took the razor […] and, swishing it between strokes in the lukewarm bathwater I stood in, I scraped off all my hair, except for the few areas in which humans are hirsute: the top of the head, the underarms and the neat corona haloing the genitals. […] When I drained the water, the bathtub was coated an inch thick all around with a sodden carpet of soapy, bloody chimp hair.

It also includes some passages that make me cringe.

Sometimes I see a baby and I nearly cry. Why? Why does the sight of a baby make me cry? Is it because I know too much about the world he’s been born into? No, that’s much too insipidly romantic, that can’t be it. The sight of a baby fills me instantly with desperate, insane, boundless love. I love human babies! I love the animals! I love the world!… but—I hate it! I love and I hate the world with equal passion! That’s why I cry when I see a baby! The hot and cold fronts in my soul slam together and make a storm—a tempest!—and I cry!

Anyhow, for a truly uncanny resonance with this novel, check out the story of Travis, a real-life chimp who was raised by humans until he went apeshit and killed a woman.

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