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Lucy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 13, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 128 customer reviews

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Questions for Laurence Gonzales on Lucy

Q: The premise of Lucy is a daring one. How did you come up with the idea of a girl who is part ape?
A: I was studying petroglyphs in the high desert country of New Mexico around 1994. There is something deliciously spooky and mysterious about that country. As I was walking out there all alone, looking at those eerie pictures that someone had made maybe 1,000 years ago, I had this vision of a girl coming out of the rocks from an ancient time--this beautiful creature emerging into sunlight. It struck me that she was half human and half something else, something very ancient. I was transfixed by her. Something about her appearance made me think that she was a cross between a human and an ape. And I thought: This is really possible now. A world of possibilities opened up.

Once I had fixed on the idea, I couldn’t put it out of my mind. I was working in Hollywood at the time, writing screenplays, so my first attempt to write Lucy was actually a screenplay. But it wasn’t right. It took me the next 14 years to work it out. A few years ago I was talking with Cormac McCarthy and he asked me what I was writing next. I told him that I was writing a novel and he asked why I would want to do that, since there hadn’t been a really good novel written in decades. I nearly quit working on Lucy at that point because it was so discouraging. But in the summer of 2007, my younger daughter, Amelia, was home from college and I told her the premise of the novel. When she heard it, she insisted that I press on. She peppered me with ideas and notes of encouragement until I had completed a first draft. Then I showed it to my wife, Debbie, and my older daughter, Elena, and they both exploded with excitement about Lucy. So I was moved to really go all the way with it.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on bonobos as opposed to another type of ape?
A: Bonobos are no more plausible than chimpanzees as potential candidates for breeding with humans. In fact, my original idea was for a cross between a chimpanzee and a human. But then around 2005, I was doing research for my book Everyday Survival and was looking into the origins of humans. I heard that the largest colony of bonobos in the world was just an hour from my home in Milwaukee. So I went there to meet them. I fell in love with them. They’re sexy and clever, and they have complex language and a matriarchal social structure in which the guys do what the women tell them to do. As they got to know me better, they would come to the wire at the back of the enclosure and put their fingers through the fence, imploring me to touch them. Their hands are beautiful and so very human. There seemed no way to write Lucy without them.

Like Lucy herself, these bonobos are caught between two worlds. They can’t go back to Congo, even if we allowed it. They’re not fit for living in the wild and even if they survived, they’d be killed by bush meat hunters there or by the civil war. And yet it is so sad that they are kept in a cage. I am working to make it possible for people who read Lucy to donate money to improve their living quarters.

Q: In Lucy you tackle many serious moral and ethical issues, but at the center of it all is the question of what it means to be human. Did writing Lucy’s story help you see this question in a different light?
A: Just as science has no fixed definition of what it means to be male or female, it also has no clear way to define what it means to be human, unless we apply a strict genetic definition. And even then it gets murky. Using genetics, you could argue that someone with any genetic mutation is not human, and I don’t think we’re ready to do that. Many scientists argue, for example, that chimpanzees and bonobos should be classified as another variety of our species, Homo sapiens, or that humans should be considered another form of chimpanzee.

My face-to-face contact with bonobos, along with my research into our ancestors--the apes and early humans--made me see that we are essentially apes with all of our ape-like behaviors still intact. The first time I went to meet the bonobos in the Milwaukee Zoo, I walked up to the very thick glass behind which they lived. I looked in on a dozen or so of those individuals who were engaged in various activities--grooming and talking and climbing around. As I stood there, one of them came flying at me from somewhere high above on the end of a long rope and kicked me in the face with all his weight and momentum. If it had not been for the glass, he’d have snapped my neck and killed me. That was such a wonderfully human thing to do--to kill the stranger, as so many of us are still doing. A moment later, he was tenderly kissing another bonobo. Writing Lucy definitely shaped the way I view humans. We are still so close to our roots.

Q: Some of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the novel come from the reactions of certain groups to Lucy once the public learns about her story. Were you drawing parallels to any particular instances of intolerance that we face in society today?
A: The story I told about the bonobo who wanted to kill me illustrates the roots of our intolerance of those who are not like us. It is in our nature to protect our own group and reject other groups. The bulk of the novel was written during the administration of George W. Bush, during which violent intolerance was elevated to the level of a national ideal. Add to that the staggering ignorance, religious fanaticism, and power-mad dishonesty of that group of people, and you get a pretty good idea of what I was aiming for in the novel. I actually went into prisons and met some of the white power fanatics there. You don’t have to look very far to find the kind of people I write about in Lucy.

Q: Is there an underlying message that you hope readers will take away from reading Lucy?
A: Lucy does indeed raise many ethical, moral, and philosophical issues that are useful to think about and debate. One important issue we haven’t touched on yet is the way people think about other animals. Recent scientific study shows us that many animals are extremely intelligent and even self-aware. Some birds, for example, have consciousness that is not unlike our own. Whales and dolphins are very likely just as smart as we are. I hope that people come away from reading Lucy with a greater respect for animals of all sorts and perhaps a greater reluctance to destroy them simply because they don’t understand them. I also think it’s important to point out that I wrote most of this novel between the ages of 59 and 61. Part of what kept me going was that I had had the privilege of knowing Norman Maclean, the author of A River Runs Through It, who didn't start writing until he was in his seventies. I hope that this book serves as an inspiration to others. It’s never too late, so never give up.

But at its heart, Lucy is a coming-of-age novel about a wonderful young girl discovering herself and the world in which she finds herself. Lucy says it herself: All teenagers have feelings like hers. The message is: Lucy is a novel. It’s a story, and as such, it’s meant to make people turn the pages and laugh and cry. If they happen to have deep thoughts along the way, that’s good, too. But if all Lucy does is to make you stay up late reading, then that’s enough for me.

From Publishers Weekly

When anthropologist Jenny Lowe brings Lucy, the teenage daughter of a murdered colleague, back home with her to Chicago from the Congo in Gonzales's glib biological thriller, Jenny puts the girl's behavioral quirks down to unfamiliarity with the world outside the jungle. But when Lucy shows uncommon strength, agility, and sensitivities typical of animals, Jenny is shocked to realize that Lucy is a "humanzee": half human, half bonobo. Lucy soon becomes a magnet for the controversy that has colored debates between creationists and evolutionists for decades, as well as an object of interest to a clandestine military think tank. Gonzales (Everyday Survival) condenses considerable topical discussion of evolution issues into his narrative, but his underdeveloped characters are little more than one-dimensional mouthpieces for the viewpoints they espouse. A tidy, anticlimactic ending fails to do justice to the many controversial points the novel raises. 100,000 first printing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (July 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272607
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,458,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on July 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
With an intriguing premise and an action-packed beginning, Laurence Gonzales's "Lucy" got my adrenaline pumping and my hopes set high. In a high-concept "what-if" tease, "Lucy" introduces a young girl raised in the wild by a scientist studying bonobo apes. After calamity strikes her home in the Congo, another primatologist brings Lucy (in case the title wasn't a give-away) home and the two forge a tentative mother/daughter bond. All is not as it seems, however, when it is discovered that Lucy was born of the union between man and bonobo--and is, in fact, a scientific marvel (or atrocity, depending on your viewpoint).

There are many different directions that Gonzales might have taken "Lucy." To name a few: A fish out of water tale as Lucy adjusts to "civilized" society, a sociological examination of how people might react to a new and engineered species, an ethical and/or religious discussion about science being pushed too far, or a techno-thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton. Indeed, all of these aspects are present in "Lucy"--but, for all its good intentions, the novel never really gels these different components effectively. While I did find the chapters dealing with Lucy's adjustment into a new family pleasant--it is by far the most successful element of the book. So, in a minor and surprisingly human way, much of the story does work. However, once we look at the broader picture with menacing governmental agencies and maniacal religious zealots--the tale goes seriously awry.

There is a real lack of subtlety in the remainder of "Lucy." Heroes and villains are drawn in big strokes with little moral ambiguity.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A book of this type - featuring a girl who is a blend of human and Bonobo genes - should have great science, interesting characters, and deep discussion of ethical issues. This book fails on all counts. The science is sketchy - just a vague discussion of genetic engineering used to create the hybrid Lucy, with no explanation of how this research could be carried out in a hut in the Congolese jungle, with only intermittent electricity from an unreliable generator. The characters (with one exception, who dies in the very beginning of the book), are either all good or all bad, which makes them unbelievable and uninteresting. The discussion of ethics centers on whether Lucy should be considered human or not, assuming that if she is human, she should be treated well. Little or no consideration is given to the issue of whether animals (with no human genes) should be treated badly. All in all, despite the interesting theme, this is a disappointing book.
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Short story recap. Scientist in the Congo creates a human-bonobo hybrid called Lucy, he becomes the girl;s father. After the father dies another scientist finds her in the jungle and takes her home, thinking she's a normal human teenager. Lots of complications prevail.

It was a great story, but at points it just felt rushed, so much that I dropped the timeline and was surprised at how little time had actually elapsed in the story. Other times it was paced so slowly that it seemed like we were spending too long in the scene, examining too many details.

Most of the main characters, especially Lucy, are well developed and you begin to feel like you know them and root for them. There are a few though that generally remain in the background, and those tend to be less developed and their actions will surprise you in the wrong way.

Overall it was an intriguing read, with good scientific background. Reminds me of Michael Crichton because some parts get lost in the science.
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I was greatly looking forward to reading this book because of the subject matter and the blurb that compared it to Michael Crichton novels. The blurb may have been overstating things a bit, but I found it to be an enjoyable read. It's fast paced and the plots and sub-plots are of the tried and true, stranger in a strange land variety.

Mr. Gonzales has captured the viewpoint and the lingo of American teen girls beautifully, and I think the book would definitely appeal to that audience. The main character, Lucy, is well-crafted and believable when she is interacting with other teens. Some of the adult characters needed more development, though.

The book could have also benefited from a good editor encouraging fleshing out of certain chapters. At times, it is disjointed enough to be frustrating, but the author has made the characters engaging enough to keep you from giving up. I would have enjoyed more scientific foundation building, since the premise of this novel is based upon this, and I think this shortcoming keeps it from being a seriously good book. Still, it's good enough to be an interesting, summer vacation read.
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I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to review 'Lucy.' It was both fascinating and lousy, which can be a potent combination; I read it in less than one day, even bringing it in to class with me so I could sneak-read it. And yet it was so strangely written that as I devoured it, I recognized that it was really, really bad. Hm.

The simple core of the story is about a human-ape hybrid. Why somebody hasn't thought to do this before is beyond me, because the character of Lucy makes perfect sense as a beautiful, scary creature just begging to be played by some starlet in a big-budget feature film. For the most part, the plot of the book makes sense: scientist finds wild child, brings her to civilization, other people find out, bad shenanigans ensue. It makes sense as a typical potboiler, ramping up the action when necessary, pulling back into more thoughtful territory also when necessary.

But there is so much in here which is so badly done that the cool, scientific aspects of the story got lost for me. Characters are so weirdly developed and described that the writing starts to feel like something you'd read in internet fan fiction. Dialogue is both charming and sounds like it came out of a can. Bizarre pop-culture references to 'Twilight' and Twitter jostle with interesting scientific points about great ape behavior. Weirdly awkward moments abound that have nothing to do with this book being an ARC - there are editing mistakes, sure, but also shifts in storytelling that are just plain badly done. At times it feels like a generic teen book, at times like a book you'd pick up to read on an airplane, and at times like a John Hersey-esque discourse on the nature of the wilderness.
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