The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore – cut short

Lured by the cover and the possibility of another tale personifying an animal, I started The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore.  As I read through Benjamin Hale’s Dickensonian beginning chapters, I admired the intellectual tone of the chimpanzee who was dictating his memoir.

Bruno Littlemore, a chimpanzee chosen from the local zoo for his potential intelligence, and the subject of scientists trying to study and teach language and communication, recalls his life in first person – from savage chimp to man-like existence to murderer.  As he recounts his experiences, Bruno takes on more and more human characteristics and it’s easy to forget he is not human.

I was lulled into the philosophical observations of a chimp, who sometimes observed more than his observers.  His relationship with Lydia Littlemore, the university primatologist who nurtures his passion for painting, and finally removes him from the lab to her home, seemed to echo other stories of animal study.  Bruno’s voice was erudite, but not stuffy; his story was absurd but very readable.

Then it happened  – and I had to stop reading.  Could a chimp rape its caregiver?  Where was this story going?  Did I really want to know?  I went to the reviews for help.

The New York Times review spoke of the allusions and audacity of Hale’s book – with references to Lolita and forbidden erotica.   Another reviewer refers to Bruno Littlemore’s Lineage, referencing John Collier’s The Monkey Wife,  a 1931 comic spoof that has the monkey smarter than her human husband.

Finally, the LA Times included the spoiler I was seeking and filled me in on what was to come.  I did not go back to the book.

I did skip to the last chapter to see who he murdered; it was not Lydia.   And the message was clear – sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the animals from the humans.

Body and Soul

Although I’ve forgotten most of the story, but remember it was among my favorite reads – Frank Conroy’s Body and Soul.

Conroy led the prestigious Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa and wrote his only novel about a poor boy who grows up to be a famous pianist and composer.  I’d read it again.

Today, I came across a review in the New York Times that mentions Conroy as mentor to an obscure writer, Tom Grimes, author of Mentor: A Memoir.

Columnist Dwight Garner cautions…

“Don’t give this forthright and bewildered book to the would-be writer in your life. It

might make him or her climb a tall tree and leap from it.”

Grimes could be a failed author with talent recognized only by Conroy and lost in the mires of publishing house editors –  or more likely just someone trying to capitalize on  Conroy’s name and talent.  The memoir seems to be more about poor Grimes than brilliant Conroy, who died in 2005.

After checking out Grimes’ novels –  Amazon lets you “look inside” – I’ll probably go back to read Body and Soul again instead.