Masterful storyteller Gonzales (Everyday Survival, 2008, etc.) returns to fiction with a pensive meditation on a question of biology.
The rise of the clone may be fast upon us, but Gonzales turns to a perhaps farther-fetched scenario with his imagining that somewhere in the Congolese jungle, not very long ago, ape and human came together to produce a child. Thus Lucy, who explains, “I’m a humanzee…Half human, half pigmy chimpanzee.” Insists Jenny, a bonobo watcher who sweeps Lucy from the jungle a step ahead of murderous guerrillas in a time of civil war, “Don’t ever call yourself that. You’re a person.” Ah, but there’s the rub. Lucy, not quite a teen, is more at home in the trees than on the ground, small and agile, with “smooth tan skin” and “long dark hair standing out in a wild profusion of curls.” She can hear danger coming from miles away, almost hear guns before they’re fired—almost. But she can also recite Shakespeare and speak numerous languages (“French and Lingala. English, of course. Italian and Spanish. A little German. Dutch”). The humans she encounters sense that she’s different, though they can’t quite say why—perhaps because, even in London and Chicago, she enjoys time in the branches. Out in the human world, she both attracts and troubles them. And, as luck would have it, some of the perturbed are scientists who discover, through a neat plot twist, that Lucy isn’t fully human—biologically, anyway—and may be dangerous to people, which in turn stirs up the G-men: “The presence of the human-animal hybrid within the borders of the United States…can be viewed—at least technically—as an act of terrorism.” From Frankenstein on, we’ve seen how the presence of The Other can rankle the mob, and it is from that premise that Gonzales’s story rockets into tragedy and beyond.
Michael Crichton might have produced this had he had a literary sensibility. Thoroughly well-written, grounded in science and a sorrowful sense of human nature, this book is utterly memorable.