Praise for A Beautiful Truth:
“Haunting. Heartbreaking. A Curious George for grown-ups, it is a tale of empathy and honesty, deftly told and beautifully rendered.” – Will Ferguson
“A Beautiful Truth is a story about love and beauty and our dreams for our children and our inescapable loneliness. The characters, human and animal, are sad and honest and true. I could not put this novel down, and only when I finished it could I breathe again.” – Kim Echlin
In response to Judy’s strong desire for a child that she cannot have, Walt brings home a chimpanzee. Judy loves him, takes care of him, and has hopes that he will have a happy life. Just like we all do for our own children. Looee becomes attached to Judy and Walt, learns how to please them (or not), wants to share his life with them. But things take a turn, and all of their lives change forever.
There are two different stories being told in this book. One is the world of Walt, Judy, and Looee, the other is the world of the chimpanzees at the Girdish Institute in Florida. They remain separate until an event takes place, then they merge into one. For Walt and Judy, taking care of Looee fills a hole in their lives that they thought would be filled by children.
They said the desire for children would naturally dissipate, but a man who loses a leg does not stop wanting to dance or kick.
When he thought about the idea of having a child, that modern human ability to choose to have a child, and when he thought about beauty and how things can change, he could see how, maybe for a man, a child might be a way to make these moments last – some way to prolong a beauty that can’t be preserved. But he simply understood it for love.
Their life with Looee is both strange and familiar at the same time.
Judy had seen enough hours and days to know that when things are truly strange their strangeness doesn’t appear until after the strangeness has passed.
He and Judy made unwritten noises and he looked at her with eyes of eagerness and purity, and she understood his hunger.
Looee’s laugh was real. You’d get him on the bed and when you’d wedge your fingers into his little armpits he smiled with his lower lip more than with his upper and then he started this little chuckle like the uck in chuckle or the ick in tickle but softer and Christ it was funny and cute.
His screams when he woke had a visceral effect on her – she had no choice but to drop whatever she was doing because it felt like either the world was ending or his noises would make it end.
A lot of Looee’s life with Judy and Walt was delightful and heartwarming, but life wasn’t easy for them. Looee got into quite a lot of mischief and took a lot of time and energy. But even more difficult was the greater isolation they lived in now that they had Looee. Some people thought it was strange, some thought it was wrong, and others just didn’t feel comfortable with them anymore. Judy didn’t know how to describe Looee to people – as a baby or a beast.
In the meantime, the author goes into great detail describing the lives of the chimps at the Girdish Institute. They may not have been living in an ideal environment, but it was the only world they knew. Dr. David had been with these chimpanzees his entire career and he knew and loved them well.
You can’t study a chimp the way you can drosophila or even something potentially charming like dolphins. There is more than charm; there is kinship, no matter how objective you remain. There were moments in David’s work when that kinship was amplified towards love, towards pure wonder. He knew there was no human/animal divide, there was a continuum.
Perhaps his work boiled down to an attempt to redress the unspeakable loneliness of humans. Perhaps it was just a recognition that sometimes one ape needs another to show him who he is.
I’m sure you have probably guessed that Looee eventually ends up at Girdish. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I will warn you that there are some violent and heartbreaking things that go on, but, in the end this is a beautiful and thought-provoking story about what it means to be human (or not), and the fact that we share a connection with other living things. Maybe a few too many monkey erections, but what do I know about it? Both of the writers, whose praise for this book I quoted at the top of this post, got it pretty much right.