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A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

truth

By coincidence, I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes shortly after finishing A Beautiful Truth. In both cases, chimpanzees are held in cages and used by scientists conducting medical research for “the greater good”, as in the hope of finding a cure for human diseases. After reading A Beautiful Truth, I felt baffled, sad and depressed. Somehow Rise of the Planet of the Apes with its tale of intelligent chimps revolting against cruel and stupid humans was just the balm I needed at the time.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
A Beautiful Truth criss-crosses between different narratives. Mostly we follow the story of Walt and Judy, a Vermont couple who are unable to have children and adopt a chimpanzee they name Looee. As Looee grows up, he learns how to act like a person and he wears clothes, eats with a knife and fork and watches TV. The question of whether they are doing the right thing weighs on them, but Walt and Judy can’t imagine life without Looee. The second story readers follow takes place at the Girdish Institute in Florida, a medical research facility where a number of chimpanzees are held. Sometimes the story is told from the perspective of the chimps as they interact as a colony in an outside enclosure or from the cages they inhabit inside the facility. The chimps have their own unique dialect and way of describing the world they see. At other times, one of the facility’s staff will tell the story, such as Dr. David Kennedy, a scientist who is determined to prove chimpanzees can learn language and are capable of empathy. However, with all their good intentions, whether in a loving home or subjects in a research project, chimpanzees living to such an extreme degree away from their natural environment are not destined for a happy ending.

THE GOOD
What I enjoyed about A Beautiful Truth is the touching story of how Walt, Judy and Looee became a family.  In their eyes, Looee was their son and a person. Looee taught Walt and Judy how much they are alike despite being different species. It was a pleasure reading about their lives together and how Looee lived day-to-day. Imagining a chimp eating spaghetti, watching Blue Lagoon and going hunting with Walt made me smile.

THE BAD
I have a really bad habit of skimming book descriptions. For some foolish reason, I thought the story was only about Walt, Judy and Looee. I wasn’t prepared to read about the chimps at the research facility. Yes, I could have stopped reading the book, but I didn’t and that’s my bad. It was heartbreaking to read how much stress the chimps endure between trying to survive a vicious existence with other chimps and the violation of medical tests. In one part of the book, a chimp is so broken he just lies down and holds out his arm for the needle.

CONCLUSION
What is the truth author Colin McAdam wants us to glean from A Beautiful Truth? I think he wanted us to see that humans and chimpanzees have more in common than we realize. But truthfully (no pun intended), I don’t think he was entirely successful with this odd mishmash of narratives and strange descriptions like Looee moans “like a woman surprised by how good something feels” or the chimp tried to put his penis on her face “like husbands do to wives on their birthday”(!). When you read a book about a chimp maiming the humans that love him because he can’t hold back his true nature or healthy chimps injected with HIV that become chronically sick in the name of science there is no beautiful truth; only that the truth sucks.

My apologies, I realize this is depressing. Writing this review makes me relive the experience of reading the book. Again, it’s my own fault for reading the whole thing. I badly hoped there would be a Hollywood moment where Walt, Judy and Looee would be reunited as a family. Nope.

2/5 Stars

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13 comments on “A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

  1. Naomi
    September 4, 2014

    This book is definitely not for everyone, because so much of it is depressing. The title is deceiving. And, there is also a whole lot of chimpanzee masturbation. But, I think it delivers a good message about how similar we all are in this world in terms of what we need to survive and be fulfilled (positive socialization with others, etc.), and maybe it takes a harsh look at the awful stuff we are doing to animals in the name of science to make us want to stop? Ever since I read this book, I have been wanting to read Ape House by Sara Gruen. They both did a lot of research on chimp behaviour and interactions with humans. Maybe hers isn’t quite as depressing.

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  2. ebookclassics
    September 4, 2014

    Ack! I forgot about how much chimp masturbation is in this book. You are right, I also forgot about the themes of belonging and how human and chimps are both social creatures. I’m focused on the harsher stuff because it made me SO sad. I haven’t heard of Ape House and will look it up.

    Like

  3. Brian Joseph
    September 5, 2014

    I cannot read about animal cruelty so this one would not be one for me. I do think that it is good that authors write about such things as awareness of what goes on is important if we saw to make the world better.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      September 5, 2014

      I share your sentiments. I started reading Sweetness #9, but realized right away the main character is a scientist who conducts tests on animals. I’m not sure to what degree it would be described in the story, but I have decided not to continue with the book.

      Like

      • Ngan R.
        September 12, 2014

        It is very good to know your thoughts on Sweetness #9, because now I can skip it!

        Like

        • ebookclassics
          September 12, 2014

          I read some good reviews for Sweetness #9, but I’d had enough of animals in cages.

          Like

  4. joyweesemoll
    September 5, 2014

    This does seem like an odd way to write a novel. I could see how nonfiction might end up with this mishmash, but fiction can be more structured and thematic.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      September 5, 2014

      I was so sure I was reading a non-fiction memoir and was surprised to discover it was a novel. So I was very confused afterwards, but maybe that’s my bad.

      Like

  5. friendlybookworm
    September 5, 2014

    Not related to the review direct but I have nominated you for the Lovely Blog Award! Check it out; http://friendlybookworm.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/one-lovely-blog-award-nomination/

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      September 12, 2014

      Thank you so much! I’m so honoured. I really appreciate that you read my blog.

      Like

  6. Ngan R.
    September 12, 2014

    I’m sure this book would make me sad, too. I don’t want to read about animal cruelty or experiments. I did read Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (I enjoyed the book overall), but didn’t like reading about how they kept the chimps cooped up in the basement and never let them out of their cages. Ugh, depressing stuff. I won’t be reading A Beautiful Truth, and I thank you for your review.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      September 12, 2014

      Oh, I didn’t know that about the chimps in the basement for We Are Completely… I’ve heard that’s a good book, but I may steer clear too. Thanks for letting me know!

      Like

      • Ngan R.
        September 12, 2014

        It’s just a few pages of describing how bad the conditions are for chimps but Fowler’s book has an interesting narrator and the broader story of family is enjoyable to read and analyze. It wasn’t as bad as the description in A Beautiful Truth sounds.

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