The Ape Man’s Brother

January 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

apeThe Ape Man’s Brother by Joe R. Lansdale

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There were two strikes against me as I started reading this novella. First, I’m not too familiar with the Tarzan stories. I mean, yeah, I know who he is, but I haven’t read any of the books, so my knowledge of the character and series is only superficial. Sure, I knew the story was going to be a riff on the Tarzan mythology (with a title like The Ape Man’s Brother, how could I not know? I’m not an idiot), but I didn’t realize it was going to be a more-or-less complete retelling of his origin.

Secondly, I haven’t read Lansdale’s Ned the Seal books. I wouldn’t have expected this to be a strike against me, but apparently the story is set in that same universe, which explains the strange geography of the United States. At first, I thought Lansdale was channeling Philip K. Dick with how the US was split into a European-led eastern half and a Japanese-led western half, but maybe he still is. I haven’t read those books to get a clear idea of why that’s the case.

(For that matter, why set this novella in that universe at all? Or will that make more sense to me once I read those books?)

The story is, as I mentioned above, a retelling of Tarzan’s origin, told through retrospection from the perspective of Cheetah (not his real name, he’s quick to tell you). In true Lansdale fashion, it’s a profane retelling, including the sexual exploits of both Tarzan … er, The Big Guy, and Bill, our ape-like narrator. Bill tells us how The Big Guy arrived in their hidden wilderness, how they were later discovered, and how they went back to the US to learn to be civilized. It’s less an adventure story than I would have expected for a Tarzan story, but it still winds up being a compelling character study.

Much of the book relies on description, which is fine by itself, but Lansdale is known for his snappy dialogue, which is mostly missing. There are still his unique turns of phrase, but without that dialogue, not only does it feel less like a Lansdale story, but it also distances the reader from all the characters but Bill. Without having a better idea of the characters outside of what they mean to Bill, we lack a better connection to the other characters. On the bright side, Lansdale is showing us that the ape-like narrator is more human than any of his human companions, so maybe that’s intended.

I get the feeling I should have caught up on the Tarzan books before reading this novella, but what I did know seemed to be enough. The story is compelling and interesting enough, though Lansdale has done much better than this with his other stories. In the grand scheme of thing, it’s better than, say, Prisoner 489, but not as good (not nearly as good) as his Texas noir stories. It’s lodged firmly in the middle, making this story only for the completionists.

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