cover image Zoology


Ben Dolnick, . . Vintage, $12.95 (291pp) ISBN 978-0-307-27915-6

The animal residents of the Central Park Children's Zoo are not the only creatures gently scrutinized in Dolnick's charming debut, a light bildungsroman about shoveling goat poop and growing up. Henry Elinsky, helplessly ordinary, has flunked out after his first semester of college and is living at home in Chevy Chase, Md. Besieged by his father's unrelenting optimism, his mother's unhappiness and his uncle's hypersensitivity, Henry joins his older brother in New York City and takes a job as a keeper at the Children's Zoo. Henry's time in the city is a whirlwind of self-discovery: he cleans animal pens, receives the testy treatment from his brother's rich, bitchy girlfriend and realizes his would-be career as a saxophonist isn't all that promising. Henry also revels in his unrequited passion for young aspiring writer Margaret, even though he knows he and Margaret cannot be together. It takes a family crisis and a monumental error of judgment at the zoo to nudge Henry onward. Dolnick can capture in one surprisingly lucid phrase the essence of a situation, though his narrator's benign travails may not resonate with readers not of the 18–25 demographic. This is very much a young man's book; it will be interesting to see what Dolnick does next. (May)