Oh, this was so beautiful. Beautiful and painful. Painful and real. Real, so real, it left my insides raw.
I had a difficult time with the beginning. N...moreOh, this was so beautiful. Beautiful and painful. Painful and real. Real, so real, it left my insides raw.
I had a difficult time with the beginning. Not because it was unreadable, not well-written or hard to muddle through. On the contrary, it was a well-written book, evenly paced. The child-speak didn't bother me (I know it bothered some readers). I really couldn't find anything wrong with the book, technically.
No, I found it difficult because I was feeling too much and I didn't want to get too entangled in the story, in the characters.
After all, this was a story that was meant to be disturbing. It is not a subject matter many people are comfortable with. And yet...
And yet I felt so attuned to Jack, from the very beginning, that it hurt to go on. I didn't want him to hurt or be scared. I didn't want him to worry, didn't want him cold or hungry. I didn't want him sleeping in a wardrobe. Didn't want him obsessively counting each time Old Nick came by.
The problem was that Jack had become real, for me. And his fears, his life, his needs made me uncomfortable. That's why it was difficult.
For certain books, as a reader, it is inevitable that at some point, you will insinuate yourself into the story. You recognize part of yourself in a character (or three). You identify with one or two or a few, see things from their perspective, feel things even though it's not your story, not your journey.
And when you can lose yourself in a story like that, lose yourself in a character, that's when a book and its narrative truly succeeds. But it's not always easy.
I don't want to give too much away because I don't want to take away from other readers' experience. I will say this, however: as I kept reading, I realized I had created two distinct time frames for the events in the story. Before The Plan (BP) and After The Plan (AP).
I found things more heartbreaking BP. And while the heartbreak is still there AP, it was more heartwarming also.
Five things that hit me, BP: - the wonder in seeing and hearing everything from a five year old's perspective - the joys of empty cans, tissue paper rolls, five crayons and a child's limitless imagination - the strength a mother achieves to keep her child whole and alive - the strength of a child who only wants to please his mother - this is a twisted, cruel, ugly, beautiful, complex world we live in
Five things that hit me, AP: - how terrifying real reality can be - yes, it is possible to go through childhood without Legos! - Steppa and crocs - how resilient children are, when adults around them are falling, failing, flailing - how twisted, cruel, ugly, beautiful and complex people are
I wasn't a huge fan of Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin, but after Room, I'm certainly a fan now.(less)
I loved this book. I needed a feel-good book, after reading some pretty dark stuff, and I'm glad I came across this one.
Also, I just realized somethin...moreI loved this book. I needed a feel-good book, after reading some pretty dark stuff, and I'm glad I came across this one.
Also, I just realized something: I've read a book about primates each year. It started with Lucy in 2010, then The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore last year, and finally, The One and Only Ivan this year.
Each one dealt with the anthropomorphization or humanization of a primate, to a certain degree. Lucy, arguably the most scientific of the three, dealt with the scientific, social, political and racial issues surrounding the creation of a human-bonobo hybrid. Bruno Littlemore was a philosophical romp through a chimp's psyche and showed how he, as a chimp, was always a human in a chimp's body, and how he slowly but willingly subsumed his "chimpness" in exchange for living not only amongst humans, but as a human.
My family tree spreads wide as well. I am a great ape, and you are a great ape, and so are chimpanzees and orangutans and bonobos, all of us distant and distrustful cousins.
I know this is troubling.
I too find it hard to believe there is a connection across time and space, linking me to a race of ill-mannered clowns.
Chimps. There's no excuse for them.
Ivan, a narrative based on a true story of a gorilla now living in Zoo Atlanta, is about a silverback named Ivan who lived in captivity for 9,855 days at a circus mall off Exit 8 of I-95 (yep, you read that right...a circus mall). His best friends were an elephant and a stray dog, who, like Ivan, knew no existence other than performing for humans three times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. All the animals were humanized and given voices, but strangely enough, each animal retained something inherently true to their natures: Stella the elephant is hyperthymestic and is concerned about raising baby elephants the right way and being able to protect them; Bob the dog is both cynical about humans yet deep down, wants nothing more than to belong to someone, anyone, even if it's a stuffed animal. And Ivan, he who knew theoretically what it meant to be a silverback, but who hadn't been around other gorillas since he was a baby, he who had forgotten, yet still yearned for the grooming hands of another gorilla, who dreamt of mangoes and raisins, of bugs and nests, of playing tag and playing in the mud. (view spoiler)[By his own machinations and the love of a little girl, the circus mall is eventually closed down and he and the rest of the animals are eventually moved to Zoo Atlanta. But because he's lived in captivity for most of his life, he doesn't know how to be or act like a gorilla and has to be re-inculcated into gorilla life before he could live among his own kind. (hide spoiler)]
Humans always smell odd when change is in the air. Like rotten meat, with a hint of papaya.
Ivan is humanized, it's true, and the author admits to wanting to give him a voice. Both Lucy and Bruno strove to have a voice, one that was more human than animal; one that glorified humanity and all that was good about humans like culture and innovation, art and technology; one that tried to bridge the gap between being identified as human and what it meant to live as a second class citizen, as an animal, in a human world. They tried to rationalize why humanity was better than being a chimp or a bonobo, or why they had to subsume their natural animal selves to become who they wanted to be.
Is there anything sweeter than the touch of another as she pulls a dead bug from your fur?
Oddly enough, Ivan never lost sight of the fact that he was a gorilla. And maybe that was the whole point: he may have been the loneliest gorilla in the world, but he remained a gorilla and never became a quasi-human who expected to reap the benefits of humankind. He protected his family (albeit a strange family composed of elephants and a dog), as a silverback is supposed to do. In retaining his identity, even if he didn't fully understand what that identity meant, he actually came closer to achieving what both Bruno and Lucy failed to do: he became sympathetic. He became a little bit more human.
"Calm down," Bob says. "You're behaving like a chimp."
I think I will try to read a primate book each year, just so that I can keep in touch with my great apeness.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)