Bruno Littlemore says: "Ben Hale will go far."
Well, I said it first: "Ben Hale will go far." I said it nearly a year and a half ago: "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings . . ." At the time, my old high school chum Pete Hale had recently informed me that his son Ben -- whom I had last seen as an infant -- was writing a novel. According to Pete, the novel is "narrated first-person by a very wry old chimpanzee who turns out to have the chimp mutation tweek that pushes him over the edge into 'sentient'; he learns how to talk, read, write, becomes a famous semiotics professor."
Ben spoke of other ideas spinning out from the core of his thinking, including a possible PhD in linguistics and primatology concerning semiotics and great ape experiments intersecting with science and the philosophy of language. However, a PhD in anything would now be a step down, for a story -- an incredible story -- has developed since that blog entry last year, and my old friend Pete tells me a tale of a debut novelist's unlikely success. It started Friday, October 2, with Pete telling that Ben had finished at the University of Iowa and taken off for New York City in August, found himself a literary agent there, and had been fine-tuning his novel about the hyper-intelligent chimp named Bruno since then.
The Monday before that, Ben and his agent had sent out the manuscript and to their surprise had quickly received several offers. This sort of thing does not happen very often, so Pete was naturally very excited at Ben's good news and promised to let me know how things turned out after Tuesday, October 6th, when the negotiations were expected to conclude. I congratulated Pete on Ben's good fortune and promised to blog about the success when more was known. Several days passed, during which Pete kept me posted as various meetings were going on between Ben and various publishers -- both domestic and foreign. I finally received the go-ahead for an announcement after the official press release was posted by Rachel Deahl at Publishers Weekly on Friday the 9th around noon (Seoul Time) informing us that Twelve Publishers will publish the book, and since this press release supercedes much of what I had composed over the course of a week as I waited for the official news, I've decided to edit what I had previously posted and just go with what Deahl reports:
Closing a five-way auction just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, Brian DeFiore sold North American rights to The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore to Cary Goldstein at Twelve. The novel is 26-year-old Benjamin Hale's debut and is presented as the memoir of the first chimp to develop the ability to speak. DeFiore is championing the book as a potential buzz title at the coming fair.Absolutely incredible. What a success story! Well . . . so far, but the proof will be in the proverbial pudding. I look forward to the published novel and hope to have equally impressive words to post in my own review.
Hale wrote the book at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and took home the Michener-Copernicus award for it this year. The novel is written from the perspective of the titular chimp, now looking back on his life after returning to captivity in the shadow of a murder conviction; DeFiore described the work, which clocks in at 600 pages, as a "sprawling novel." The agent said it touches on such themes as alienation, xenophobia, language and taboo desire; Twelve is planning an early 2011 publication.
If I like it . . .