A Colorado woman deals with a surreal identity change in this novel.
Sheila is a 44-year-old single mom who lives near Molybdenum Mountain Ski Resort, where she works in the transportation department. But in the book’s first chapter, Sheila undergoes a dramatic change: An alien light appears while she’s alone in the resort garage and offers her one wish. Before she can decide on an answer, she’s abruptly turned into a male silverback mountain gorilla. Flummoxed and still possessing her human mind and speech capabilities, Sheila reaches out to her co-worker (and occasional fling) Kurt, who eventually overcomes his shock to help her get home. The resort has hired a team of trained gorillas managed by humans who communicate with them through sign language to install a new ski lift before winter. Sheila attempts to blend in with the crew while Kurt, her friend Blaise, her psychoanalyst, Roger, and her son, Peter, are brought into the loop one by one to try to understand what’s happened. Sheila, meanwhile, eventually realizes she’s not the only gorilla in the group who used to be human. The pressing issue of whether she should live in the human world or the animal one becomes more urgent when she and the other gorillas are moved to the zoo and face the possibility of eventual transport to Africa. This tale presents a powerful premise, and it’s at its most effective when Sheila struggles to reconcile her gorilla identity with her human one. But surreal premises work best when characters’ emotional landscapes remain consistent and relatable. Unfortunately, players here tend to react unpredictably and irrationally. Sheila wrestles a frightened Kurt to the ground and kisses him in a playful attempt to flirt—while she’s a gorilla. And no one at the resort seems to stop to count the free-range gorillas while they’re working. Characters often spout a simple “Wow” when discussing mind-shattering events. Metzger’s (Two Boys, 2013) book is interested in gender identity—many characters speculate Sheila transformed because of an unconscious desire to be male. But in light of her also changing species, repeated focus on the gender swap seems beside the point.
This ambitious tale involving a bizarre metamorphosis struggles to find a relatable worldview.