Zoology - Ben Dolnick

Zoology is the story of Henry Elinsky, a college flunk-out who takes a job at the Central Park Zoo and discovers that becoming an adult takes a lot more than just a weekly paycheck.

~from back cover (paperback edition)




Henry Elinsky doesn't just drop out of college, he flunks out altogether. Awkward living sitch with the parents follows until his older brother suggests Henry move in to his spare bedroom. Well, that doesn't go over super well with the live-in girlfriend of Henry's brother, but she tries to go along with it ... at least at first. After moving in with his brother, Henry takes a job at Central Park Zoo in New York City. At night, he pursues his real passion, performing as a jazz saxophonist. All in all, it's pretty much a coming-of-age kind of story about life's crap giving you a crash course in learning how to grow the f up. 


Henry also meets and crushes on a girl, Margaret, but ... I don't know, to me it felt like Henry got friendzoned pretty quick. Poor Henry. Except, by story's end I didn't like him all that much... but still, sucks to be shot down. It's not that Henry was a bad guy necessarily, I just generally didn't find him all that likeable. He wasn't even written as a likeable slacker type. He's just sort of ... there. Letting life move around him without participating too much. And when it came to Margaret, there were times when his creepy clinger behavior was seriously off-putting. He read into EVERY behavior, like when you give someone a compliment or go on one coffee date and they go and tell everyone you two are totally in a long-term relationship / engaged / already have baby names picked out. I just wanted to shake Henry and tell him to find his chill already. 


One thing I was surprised and disappointed with -- given the title of this novel, the zoo isn't actually mentioned all that much. Most of the plot happens on Henry's off time! The zoo takes a bigger role in the plot near the end when an incident there gets out of hand, but mostly it's just a periodic backdrop. I did like the scenes at the zoo, I just wish there had been more of them. 


Jonathan Safran Foer (author of Everything Is Illuminated / Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) gives a cover blurb on the paperback edition. I'm a fan of Foer's works so that did play some part in me picking this book up (as it's meant to -- well done, publishers.) I can see why Foer endorsed this book. Dolnick's writing has a feel that is pretty similar to the tone of Foer's works. Also, I noticed that the banter between Henry and his friend Sameer (I believe he's Pakistani?) has a similar feel to that of Jonathan and Alex in Foer's Everything Is Illuminated


The plot had its entertaining and sometimes dramatic moments but it was one of those stories where I kept waiting for it to hit its stride but that never really happened for me. Maybe because Henry never grew on me and he's the star of the show. Also, that ending.. what was that?! I found it so bizarre and unsatisfying. Wish I had ended up liking the story as much as I like the cover art! 





Note to Readers: Just a heads up -- Henry spends much of the story working his way through Tom Clancy's The Hunt For Red October. As you might guess, near the end of Zoology when Henry is finishing up Hunt For Red October, he reveals some spoilers for that book. Just FYI, in case that was on your TBR.