Hale, who grew up in Colorado and graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, demonstrates an extraordinary intellectual range, and only his wacky sense of humor can keep Bruno from coming off as a hirsute boor. "Ostentation is my style," the chimp says by way of apology. Scrambling through the whole canon of Western culture, he identifies with all the anxious outsiders - from Milton's Satan to Shakespeare's Caliban to Disney's Pinocchio - those inhuman characters who dared to thrust themselves into existence by speaking and making us question the nature of our own humanity.
Linguistics may be the most interesting and prevalent theme of this novel, but its salacious subplot will attract more attention: "I'm sorry. It's true," Bruno says. "I am a deviant and depraved pervert: I have no desire to have sex with other chimps." In the late 1980s, a conflict with her research supervisor inspires Lydia Littlemore to take Bruno home with her, and soon the two of them are sleeping together - "like Anna and Vronsky." (Didn't former congressman J.D. Hayworth warn us about such abominations?) Their love, which dare not speak its name, eventually inspires violent protests and sends Bruno running underground for much of the novel.