Reading Roundup: Thanksgiving

I read two books last week.

The first was a birthday gift I had meaning to get to for some time: The Wauchula Woods Accord, by Charles Siebert. It’s an extended meditation on the relationship between humans and non-human animals, deeply felt, powerfully written. (And the ending is GAAAAH.)

Just when I imagine that I have done the thinking I need to do in this area, along comes more evidence that mammals are highly sensitive beings with impressionable psyches, capable of being wounded, and—remarkably; though why should it be remarkable?—of healing from trauma through love and compassion.

Siebert set out to focus on the lot of retired show-biz chimps, many of whom have never known a single other chimp, as they live out their lives in retirement facilities around the country. In the Wauchula Woods of Florida, he locks psyches with Roger, an ornery, solitary chimp who won’t socialize with his facility-mates but is fascinated by Siebert, and the two spend nearly a week in mutual contemplation.

In alternate chapters, we hear stories of research facilities that keep neurotic chimp subjects in stacked cages; chimp escapes from roadside zoos that end in horror; and new, shockingly violent elephant behavior resulting from their decimation in Uganda.

It’s a sad book. It is also beautifully human and humane. And the ending: GAAAAH. Healing is possible. I’ll leave it at that.

I plucked the second book off a table at Copperfield’s in Calistoga: Youth in Revolt, by C.D. Payne. The movie comes out next year, so the book is finding its way onto “New and Recommended” tables, despite having been published (self-published!) in the early ’90s. (How did I miss it? College.)

What to say? YIR is whip-smart and hilarious, with plenty of ironic delights, but it is a 500-page assault of plot. In fact, there is enough plot in this book for at least another 10 novels—and apparently Payne kept going, with multiple similarly titled sequels (Revolting Youth, etc.), so the plots keep spinning. I was exhausted less than halfway through, soldiering on both out of respect for Payne’s searing wit and in the hope that our enterprising and sympathetic sociopath of a hero, Nick Twisp, would get the girl.

Two more complaints: 1) The book is cruel to fat people, and 2) It commits unforgivable novel atrocity #2. Although because YIR is a farce, in which all manner of absurdities occur, the sudden financial windfall was a little easier to take.

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