Bruno Littlemore is quite unlike any chimpanzee in the world. Precocious, self-conscious and preternaturally gifted, young Bruno, born and raised in a habitat at the local zoo, falls under the care of a university primatologist named Lydia Littlemore. Learning of Bruno's ability to speak, Lydia takes Bruno into her home to oversee his education and nurture his passion for painting. But for all of his gifts, the chimpanzee has a rough time caging his more primal urges. His untimely outbursts ultimately cost Lydia her job, and send the unlikely pair on the road in what proves to be one of the most unforgettable journeys -- and most affecting love stories -- in recent literature.
Like its protagonist, this novel is big, loud, abrasive, witty, perverse, earnest, and amazingly accomplished. The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore goes beyond satire by showing us not what it means, but what it feels like be human - to love and lose, learn, aspire, grasp, and, in the end, to fail.
This intriguing novel is narrated by a chimpanzee but not just any chimpanzee. Bruno Littlemore, with a high-brow and hilariously pompous attitude, is the first chimpanzee to conquer human speech. He’s confined to an institution in Florida where he’s dictating his memoirs to a stenographer named Gwen. Born into captivity in a zoo, he’s later transferred to a research facility in Chicago when it’s learned through an experiment that he’s a bit different than other chimps. There he meets Lydia Littlemore, who decides to take him in as her own and let him live at her house. Eventually the two become involved romantically and then, sexually. Disturbing? Yes. But also strangely… sweet.
Robert Petkoff as Bruno adapts a scholarly tone with a melodic enunciation of each word. He’s so convincing, there is no doubt that if a chimpanzee could speak, he would sound exactly like Petkoff. His affectations when taking on the characters of Lydia and others throughout the novel are equally skillful. But what really sets him apart from other narrators may be the recitation of animal vocals his chimpanzee squawks and guttural grunts would easily persuade a chimpanzee that he was of like DNA. Bruno is, if nothing else, a detailed storyteller (he drones on for at least 10 minutes about the appearance of a janitor in the research facility). This has the potential to get tiresome, but Petkoff’s sense of timing and drama combined with the vocabulary talent of author Benjamin Hale manage to make the minutiae come alive, so that descriptions are craved and not dreaded.
The plotline of Bruno Littlemore is so creative and far-fetched, yet simultaneously so intensely real and believable the hallmark of genius story-telling. Colleen Oakley
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Prepare To Be Dazzled!
- Trace L. Wogmon