When Melanie at Grab the Lapels asked me if I wanted to take part in a blog tour for a book called Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, I agreed mainly because of the book’s title. It’s unusual—as unusual as the novel’s premise:
Born with the looks and violence of a primate, Beautiful is raised on a compound that includes friends who are paid to praise her, designer clothes, and a mother and father who shield her with elaborate lies. No one dares risk her displeasure, so when she escapes on a road trip to meet her idol—radio host of the Strong as Animal Woman Show—it’s with the reckless confidence born of having never been held responsible for her impulsive behavior. Beautiful’s instincts cause mayhem, while her genuine belief in her own superiority colors her perspective.
I’m so glad that I took a chance on this book. It was such a wild and fun read—unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. Yet while there were lots of hilarious moments, there was also lots of serious stuff to think about. I truly admire all the imagination that went into this novel, but I think the best part is the perfect balance the novel strikes between fun and serious.
Seventeen-year-old Beautiful comes from a rich family; her every wish is fulfilled. She dresses in designer clothes and has access to anything she might want. She is completely unaware that actions have consequences. It takes Beautiful a long time to realize that having “friends” who are getting paid for being around is not a good thing. But you can’t blame her for it, since this is the way she was brought up. Do you blame her parents then for creating a person who can’t possible function outside of their compound? You can’t really, since someone who looks like an ape yet is aware like a human being couldn’t possibly lead a “normal” life anyway.
My unease about how Beautiful was raised and about what getting away from her current life might mean for her was balanced by all the comical events that take place when this self-assured, yet unaware, character decides to leave her parents. I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say that her interactions with a greaser, the police, a pair of drug users, a driver who isn’t quite sure whether he wants to be a man or a woman, a mysterious lover and possible mobster, and the radio show host who inspired Beautiful’s ideas of how life should be lead to some pretty wild situations that are full of astute observations, social critique, and hilariousness.
Truly, I hope you will take a chance on this book as I did. Most likely, it won’t be like anything you’ve read in a long time either. (You can purchase the book through the publisher, Pink Narcissus Press.)
I’d like to thank Heather Fowler, the author, to answer some of my questions about Beautiful Ape Girl Baby.
My biggest question: Where did Beautiful come from? How did you come up with such a unique character?
I think Beautiful came from my rejection of the notion that women should have to accept a thousand slurs a year and consider this as the normal state of female existence. With her character, I wanted to display and upend that kind of invisible expectation. So Beautiful is a thinking person’s response to the idea that society can reasonably expect a double standard of degradation and devaluation based on gender to be blindly accepted by women. She is kind, loyal, and strong—but takes no shit. Maybe her response to others who try to either take advantage of her or demean her is overzealous at times, violent, powerful, as her magical/fabulist strength permits, or exaggerated for humor or satirical purposes, but she emerged, as a character, from my need to confront the idea that benign acceptance of media roles for women (sexy, soft, thin, harmless) is not natural at all. Nothing could be more unnatural.
The great “nature vs. nurture” debate certainly plays a role in your story. In addition, it’s a touching coming-of-age tale. But Beautiful’s adventure also fits in with the “Great Road Trip” theme, which can so often be found especially in American literature. In fact, I kept thinking of Thelma and Louise while reading the book. What inspired you to write this story? Was it one of these three “themes,” or was it something else entirely?
Thanks for this question! It was love. Love inspired me to write. Whether it was love for the idea of a stronger self hiding inside every woman or love for a world where Utopias can exist, I’m not sure. The travel trope came in because often I believe that an individual has to leave habit to reconceive every landscape. Road trips and travel change people. While there may be the same types of people everywhere: the cons, the criminals, the drug addicts, the sweet friends, the caring but oblivious parents, etc., when a person leaves “home” it is his or her reality in transition. Vibrancy of life and exploration are magnified. Beautiful had basic goals for herself when she left home—to know love, to feel acceptance, to really live in a way she hadn’t lived before.
Perhaps that alone is a recipe for humor and tragedy, wanting simple things so much and thinking that receiving them should be easy.
I really got a kick out of the parts where Beautiful turns into a therapist to help people deal with their problems. Those scenes were probably my favorite ones. Which part of the book was the most fun to write?
I like Thomas’s brief transition to female out in the desert—that was fun to write. But the whole book was a blast. I forbade myself nothing ridiculous. Here’s a funny thing, due to the humor in the text and how wild and free I felt as I wrote, I couldn’t even edit this book with people in the house. So much laughter from the typist is bound to draw questions, so writing near others often devolved into hilarious social interactions. In terms of writing, most writers can tell you this is a strange outcome—where the act of writing increases the social narrative, rather than the opposite.
I could not guess the ending of your story until it happened. Did you know where the story would take you when you started writing? Or did the storyline change while you were working on it?
I knew from the beginning that the novel would build to a climax of a confrontation at Beautiful’s mentor’s house, which would further strip her illusions, but I did not know what her exact ending would be until I wrote it. Once I wrote it, however, I knew it had been foreshadowed all along.
I also knew that at the heart of this narrative, for me, was a question: If you know you cannot live in a society that champions fairness, or that a fair society is impossible based on the current state of affairs, do you go down outlaw style, on your own terms, or slowly wait to be assimilated?
Beautiful would not be assimilated.
This is your first novel, your previous publications being story and poetry collections. Was writing a full-length novel different from writing stories?
Oh, yes! Writing a novel was dramatically different. For one thing, since I’ve written hundreds of stories and poems, they are my go-to forms. The novel was terrifying, represented commitment. And there are times when you’re writing a longer text that you despair it will never see the light of day and/or wonder if it ever should. But I had a lot to say with this book. I’m glad I pushed through and allowed myself to live with these characters. It opened the door for more long-form work. Of course, I am also writing plays and librettos right now.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I am hoping readers are willing to take a risk and pick up this book because something I think about often is how much I cherish a text that makes me laugh aloud. So much of literary writing doesn’t have exuberant humor. It’s a wonderful thing when a book can cause convulsive physical reactions while registering as smart and deep at the same time. Maybe, in that way, I wrote the book I wanted to read. I hope readers enjoy it, too.
For updates on Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, and other work in progress, I invite readers to drop in at my website www.heatherfowler.com, Facebook, or Twitter and say hello.
Thanks again, Heather. I encourage readers to also check out the other stops on this blog tour. I particularly enjoyed reading about the book’s path to publication, which is discussed on Read Her Like an Open Book.