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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2007
wow, what a fantastic book. ben dolnick has created a winsome, earnest, throughly endearing everyman. henry reminds me so much of myself at times that it's unsettling. and at times, laugh out loud funny. this is the kind of book i'd end up writing if i could, and i suspect there are many people out there who will feel the same way once they read it. especially any thoughtful college-age and post-grad dudes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2007
Talented writing skills by a young author. His lines are sparse and precise. There are some great observations about inner feelings and his depiction of New York City is accurate. Pretty impressive for someone just out of college. Looking forward to his next offering.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2007
First of all, I'm neither a relative or friend or acquaintance of Dolnick's (and the assumption that he's got relatives etc. writing positive reviews here is a cheap shot). I enjoyed "Zoology" very much. In some ways it reminded me of Jonathan Tropper's The Book of Joe Yet what's unusual about "Zoology" is that Henry is such a well-drawn character that we feel his hope and love, his sadness and his despair, while at the same time we see the world through his limited understanding. I don't think there are loose ends, or plot lines that are brought in and then dropped-- we don't understand so much about Henry's parents' marriage, because what (grown) child does? We don't know the details of his brother's relationship troubles, because Henry doesn't. He's wrapped up in his own life, and he's young and not fully intuitive about others: that's all internally consistent in the book. A real bonus for me was the tenderness with which Dolnick writes about animals-- Newman, especially, but others too. (That an animal named "Newman" is lost by Henry at that point in the narrative is pretty telling.) The idea here is that other animals can comfort us in ways humans often cannot: how true! I've noticed that the Amazon reviews of my own book Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion amount to a really fascinating mix of positive and not so positive. This has made me take notice when critiques seem to wish for a different book than the one the author has chosen to write! Why not at least consider WHY Dolnick chose to leave us with not-fully-resolved issues in Henry's world? Varied opinions, obviously, are the stuff of book reviewing; I just hope the negative reviews here don't turn people off, as "Zoology" has a lot to offer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2008
Henry Elinsky, a college drop-out, moves to New York where he resides with his brother David and David's girlfriend Lucy. Lacking skills for a more prestigious job, Henry finds employment in Central Park Zoo. Henry's lackluster life takes a turn for the better, or so he thinks, when he finds a friend in Margaret, a young woman temporarily staying in his apartment building.

I admit that I chose to read this book because the author grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I honestly don't know if I liked this book or not. What seemed to be lacking was my feeling connected to a person (or even an animal) in the story. I kept seeing glances of many characters but felt I never did truly know their stories. Later I was thinking that perhaps this *was* the purpose of the story. Simply put, at a very precarious time in the life of Henry Elinsky, he was not attached to anyone. He felt alienated from school, from friends, and even from family.

This book may actually be good reading for a young person who is in a state of "drift". Haven't we all had such a state as a young adult?

POSSIBLE SPOILERS: There were puzzling things in the story - all of which made me crazy. Why was Margaret such a tease? Why had no positive things happened to Henry? How did he make the decision to go back to school? Why did Henry get such a weird last letter from Margaret? Why were Henry's parents' problems and Lucy's annoyance only alluded to and not explored more deeply?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2009
I like Dolnick's writing style and he provides a realistic account of an aimless 19 year old's experience in NYC, dealing with the disappointment of unrequited love, working at a job that is not a career, and dealing with changing family dynamics. However, being inside the main character's head gets depressing and boring after a while. I wanted to know more about his parents' marital problems, which are never fully explained. His love for a woman who is obviously not interested becomes tedious. Also, something must have happened with Newman. It's hard to believe that he would not have been found one way or another and that he never would have found out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Destiny, do we have control or is it just by accident? High school graduation is supposed to open the road to new beginnings. That's what Henry Elinsky thought, but his first year at college was a disaster. Now, back at his old high school and helping dad with music class, it's definitely the pits. Life just doesn't appear fair and understanding from others seems impossible! Family dynamics and hidden problems leave Henry wondering which way is up. Breaking into the adult world seems to present some real challenges, but this is just the beginning.

New York, New York, Glimmer and glitz, a place where starting over can take unexpected turns. Henry is invited to spend the summer with his brother David in the Big Apple and can't wait for the adventure to begin. Dad thinks it is great, mom is afraid he's avoiding college. Uncle Walter is just his emotional self. Once Henry's settled in, next stop Central Park Zoo, and a job interview.

Nervous but determined, Henry nabs a job at the children's zoo. There is nothing cool about shoveling animal dung and washing out cages but his responsibilities become enjoyable in a mindless sort of way. Sometimes Henry finds more comfort in talking to a hairy "friend", than with unpredictable, closed minded, emotionally stressed humans! The Zoo becomes a refuge from the disappointments and trials that plague Henry's struggle to reach his dreams.

Is love in the air? When Henry meets Margaret, matters of the heart take unpredictable turns and alter his thoughts for the future. Close encounters or just accidental meetings? It's a summer romance, or is it?

Each day, Henry faces situations testing his ability to adjust, grow and learn from his choices. Accidents, family emergencies, and poor decisions may leave Henry up the creek with out a paddle.

Zoology is a small glimpse into the day to day events, thoughts, and dreams of a young man struggling to find meaning and purpose, in his upside down life.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2007
I don't read much fiction so when I picked up this book I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a story that speaks to me more than anything I have read, seen, or heard in a long time. Zoology is like a "Catcher in the Rye" for my generation. Like the great book I compare it to, Zoology is more than a coming of age story, it is a being of age story. Elinsky doesn't grow up so much as learn how to accept that he is already living in the flawed, complicated, but rich world of grownups.

I love the story in Zoology and its writing takes the book even higher. There's a thousand little descriptve gems in the book where Dolnick's language glows. "Furry dust," "sour, bready smell of saltines," "a little fizzing pill of hate," "like a house burned down to the pipes and bricks and black," to name a few.

I give Zoology the highest rating I can. I loved this book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2007
Wow. I'm stunned that this is a first novel. The writing is confident, sophisticated and unpretentious. I love Henry, the main character, who is sweet and observant and funny. With so many gimicky novels around, it was a deep pleasure to read this entertaining book about a young guy starting out in the world. The plot hooked me with its vivid details of life at home when you're supposed to be in college, how it feels to move in with your brother and his girlfriend in New York City and what it's like to work at the Central Park Zoo. Reading Zoology, I remembered how satisfying it is to get involved with a good book. A real treat. I'd recommend it to anyone.
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on September 1, 2008
by Jacob Soiffer
Ben Dolnick's Zoology portrays the coming-of-age of college flunkout Henry Elinsky. Written in 2007, Zoology allows the reader to sentimentally connect with how many of today's young adults face the world. Henry, from his time in Maryland to his job at the Central Park Zoo, struggled to set his own goals for his life and give it direction. He struggles through a broken love affair, a scandal at the Zoo, the blackout of 2003, a feud with his successful Brother's girlfriend, and many other obstacles along his way, until, finally, he finds what he really wants to do. Zoology is an accurate and moving depiction of a confused teenager taking his first step into manhood.
After dropping out of College and spending several months dying of boredom in his Maryland hometown, Henry Elinsky receives a letter from his affluent and successful Brother, David, inviting Henry to come live with him, in an apartment building on New York's West Side. Henry immediately takes the offer, and David sets him up for a job at the Central Park Zoo. Dolnick writes with a comic, childish tone, giving the reader alternating bouts of frenzied, childlike happiness and love-torn depression. Henry's crush on Margaret, a girl from Oregon visiting her relatives in New York for the summer, dominates his mind throughout the summer. His grudge against his brother's prim girlfriend cause a growing rift in the apartment, and David must take a side. Through what is probably both the best and the worst summer of his life, Henry Elinsky begins to discover who he really is.
Zoology, Ben Dolnick's first novel, is both moving and funny. Although Dolnick overuses many clichés, his writing remains lively, funny, and intriguing, though at many points very silly. Zoology is a quick read, and a fun one at that, and I would recommend it to readers of all ages, especially those who have witnessed or gone through the troubling age of eighteen.
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on November 25, 2007
Just over fifty years ago, J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye was published. The teenage protagonist of the novel, Holden Caulfield, gained extraordinary attention from writers and readers as a rebellious outcast living in a society he did not feel he belonged in. Through Salinger's work, Holden was a hero that would staple the "coming of age" story throughout the twentieth century. Fifty one years later, in 2002, Catcher in the Rye remained a present and fundamental literary influence: Jonathon Safran Foer wrote the novel Everything is Illuminated featuring a similar teenage protagonist trying to find his own identity in a world filled with disconnection. Three years later, Foer's next novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close honed in on a character even more similar to Salinger's Holden. Oskar, a young boy destined to learn about his father, family, and the meaning of life, wanders on the hard streets of a post-9/11 New York. Now it is 2007, and Ben Dolnick's debut novel, Zoology, reiterates the "coming of age" story in a different way.
Zoology is a short novel about Henry Elinsky, a troubled college dropout who is trying to find his place in the world. The novel is divided into three sections. "Home," the first section, introduces Henry and his family, and the problems that exist between them in Washington DC. After dropping out of college, Henry is forced to work with his father at the elementary school, a situation humiliating and defeating. But Henry is apathetic, and once in the second section of the novel, "New York," Henry is rescued by his brother. Thanks to his brother's invitation, Henry leaves home to move in with his brother David and his brother's antagonizing artist girlfriend, Lucy. The trio lives in a ritzy downtown Manhattan apartment that Lucy's parents pay for. Henry finds himself working at the Central Park Zoo, befriending the doormen of his apartment building, and meeting Margaret, an object of true obsession. The final section of the book, "Virginia," reunites Henry and his parents at a vacation home in Virginia.
Zoology is a "coming of age" story. The plot tracks Henry's journey through growing up the hard way. Henry encounters more failures than successes throughout the novel's sprawling naturalistic New York streets. Henry fails at many of the zoo's jobs, fails to completely swoon over his addictive love interest, fails to fully connect with his brother and his brother's girlfriend, fails to become the aspiring musician he dreamed throughout his childhood, and fails to completely connect with his parents. But there are successes. The events within the plot reflect a caretaking motif that Dolnick pulls of brilliantly. Through the prevailing downward spiral of failure, the novel's bleak narrative transforms into a shining, juxtaposed ending of success. Henry learns to take care of others, and learns to judge events in his life realistically.
Ben Dolnick has not written the new Catcher in the Rye. Zoology is light-hearted and temporary. The emotional affects and the grit and grime of the teenage life are hardly present. Henry is not an anti-hero of rebelliousness, cigarette-puffing and binge drinking. Henry stays in his own mind, and this is where Dolnick succeeds. Without the realistic shock value, Dolnick is able to maintain through his spiraling narrative a melodramatic play that emphasizes and dramatizes events in an average teenage life. Henry is an average teenager, just an ordinary guy. He has his perks and his flaws, but he is not outrageous, exaggerated, or unbelievable. Dolnick brings forward the inner-workings of a teenage boy who is more lost, confused, and naïve than anything else.
By capturing the emotional level of a teenager accurately, Zoology succeeds in creating a more realistic "coming of age" story than any of Dolnick's literary predecessors. The language is simplistic and often boring, and reflects Henry's pacing through life wondrously. The pacing of life from one event to the next in a spiral of ups and downs, positives and negatives, is magnetic and often simple. The rules of attraction between events and human relationships that dominate the novel reflect the rules of attraction that make up a teenage boy's life.
At times it is not easy to like Henry. At times it is not easy to trust Henry. But Dolnick incorporates these disconnections between reader and protagonist on purpose. Henry, like many young males, are hard to understand and hard to associate with. But by the end of Zoology, Dolnick has provided the reader with a chance to understand something they may never have experienced, or may have forgotten: the hardships of youth.
Dolnick's debut is not the next Catcher in the Rye. The style often seems too simplistic for its own good and at times too superficial for its own good as well. But Dolnick is straightforward. The novel's title alludes to the classification of animals, and Dolnick pulls off his own form of classification with masterful clarity, even when a clear picture only reveals spiraling confusion. Henry and the other characters are at times easy to see and know, and at times are easy to relate to. For Dolnick, the novel reflects the reader's journey of understanding as much as it does Henry. And the progress of understanding is crucial to growing up.
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