FAMILY by John Donovan


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Though they consider the communication experiments they're subjected to both boring and demeaning, apes have their own language, which is much more highly evolved in their natural habitat than among zoo and lab reared animals. So Sasha, a tolerant, sensible captive who admires Thomas Wolfe, describes his species as he relates how, worried that the scientists plan to use them for a vast spare-parts surgery trial, he persuaded three other captives--young female Dylys, motherless Lollipop and formidable Moses, a ""natural"" from the wild--to escape from their University laboratory and try to make it on their own in the hills. Donovan doesn't play the escape for suspense and indeed very little happens here--even the ""stories"" told by Moses, who unsurprisingly assumes leadership, seem to dissipate into morals before they get going--and instead there is much commentary, of the sort you'd expect from a contemporary, literate ape, on human peculiarities and, especially, our inability to understand and live (and let live) with nature. According to Moses, the apes themselves once went through a period of arrogance and tyranny until the Great Judge had to intervene. As for humans (to whom the warning will be obvious), Donovan gives us first a gentle, pony-tailed young one who, for a time, lives with the four yieldingly and affectionately, then a pair of deer hunters who shoot and kill both Lollipop and Moses. After that a tearful Dylys and Sasha return to the University (where, after all, the scientists might simply be training the apes to play basketball): ""Now everything that would happen would be in the hands of humans."" Like the good humans cited by Sasha, Donovan is earnest and moral; and though the view from Sasha's eyes doesn't really give you a new perspective, it does make a gently persuasive case.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1976
Page count: 148pp
Publisher: Harper & Row