While ZOO is an animal story, it’s the polar opposite of such books as OLD YELLER, LAD: A DOG, or even ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL. ZOO is an animal story in the same way that The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic and iconic film, is an animal story. If you’re an animal lover, then this book will break your heart in a couple of places, but it also will scare all the stuffing out of you by the time you reach its conclusion.
"If you’re an animal lover, then this book will break your heart in a couple of places, but it also will scare all the stuffing out of you by the time you reach its conclusion."
It’s difficult to read more than the first few pages without keeping one eye on any animal that might possess teeth and claws. That includes the beagle in your family room --- the one with the sad eyes that is smart enough to know what time dinner is served but plays dumb on rules that involve staying off the furniture --- and the cat on the window sill that seems to be in a coma for 20 hours a day. ZOO is a doomsday book, the ultimate “animals out for trouble” novel, a 24/7 run of episodes of “When Animals Attack.”
Jackson Oz is a thoroughly discredited biologist who has been sounding the alarm for years about the increasing frequency of seemingly random attacks by animals upon human beings. For years, Oz has been presenting his theory of HAC --- Human-Animal Conflict --- to a dwindling audience of anyone who is willing to listen. Living in a Harlem apartment that is a step or two above a hovel, Oz’s dwindling supply of joy includes a hot girlfriend who is using him in the best way possible and a pet ape named Attila who probably cares more for him than his girlfriend does.
When a friend asks Oz to travel to Africa to observe some lions that have been engaging in unusual and dangerous behavior, Oz jumps at the chance, even as what appears to be random animal attacks begin to occur in the United States as well. While in Africa, Oz barely escapes with his life, but not before obtaining proof of his HAC theory for the world to see. The problem is that he cannot get anyone to pay attention, at least at first. By the time someone in a position of power finally listens to Oz, it may well be too late. Oz is also asking a very uncomfortable question: having gotten people to acknowledge what is happening, the issue that must be confronted is why it is happening, and quickly. But even if the cause of the worldwide HAC is determined, will people have the force of will to do what must be done? That is the ultimate question that this book asks and answers.
Don’t expect ZOO to end happily, with mankind in harmony with animals in nature. I was reminded of the ending of Kingdom of the Spiders or even the first remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but for an entirely different reason. What is really chilling about ZOO is its plausibility. You may not agree with all of the points of view presented here, but at the very least it will keep you reading --- and thinking --- from first page to last.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 7, 2012