Journalist, John Thigpen, is sent to cover a story about bonobos, a primate species that can communicate through sign language. What seems like a routine story gets more complicated when the scientist, Isabel Duncan, is critically injured in a bombing shortly after the interview. Thigpen has become infatuated with the lovely young scientist, and is devastated to learn of her injuries. Worse yet, his story is stolen out from under him by his co-worker and he quits his job in a fit of anger. Seeking consolation from his wife doesn't work out very well since she is suffering from depression because of her failed writing career. Amanda Thigpen wants to have a baby and John has just quit his job. The tension rises between them when Amanda takes a job in LA writing for television. John is reduced to writing for a tabloid just so he can be assured of being assigned to follow the ape story. The apes were taken and sold when the bombers broke into the lab. John and Isabel have to get very creative if they are going to get the bonobos back.
Bonobos are a rare species of great ape that has more in common with humans than any other animal. They are very affectionate, matriarchal, peaceful creatures. They have their own form of communication which scientists have been unable to decipher and yet they can learn to understand and use American Sign Language in addition to being able to understand spoken English and respond in ASL. Ape House is a novel with great deal of research behind it. The human story is completely fiction, but the interactions with the bonobos were taken directly from the author's conversations with the bonobos at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa.