Alex MacLennan
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Buy *Zookeeper* by Alex MacLennan online

Alex MacLennan
Alyson Press
344 pages
May 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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In Zookeeper, thirty-something Sam Metcalfe is forced to plot an uneasy course through love's treacherous waters, where romance and passion eventually come into his life in many disguises, not all of them expected.

Living in Washington and working at the local zoo, Sam thinks he as a great life. He has a loving friend and confidante in Laurel, who owns a trendy restaurant in Dupont Circle. Recently, however, the zoo's management has rejected Sam's hard-fought proposal for redesigning the public enclosures of their collection of black howler monkeys.

Instead, they want him to participate in a new cross-training program to shore up some of the weaker keepers. Sam is given orders to spend some time with the seventy-year-old Jack, one of the zoo's oldest keepers, and help put him at ease. Sam is assigned to help Jack look after the wild cats on Lion Island.

Meanwhile, Laurel hooks Sam up with handsome Dean, an ambitious local TV weatherman. In the first few months of their romance, they become progressively devoted to one another. Sam consumes every moment with Dean ravenously, too thrilled with pure sensation to be afraid of falling in love.

It doesn't take long, however, for cracks to form in the relationship. Sam is discounted by Dean's trendy friends, and the problems compound with Dean not being totally out to his family and, of course, his flawless muscular body, which makes Sam feel insecure.

Laurel has her own issues. Her sisters have decided that she is the sibling most likely to give up her whole life and move back to Pennsylvania to take care of their ailing Mom, seeing as she is the one with the least to give up. Desperately trying to edge herself toward a kind of peace, Laurel almost comes undone from the stress of running the restaurant and coping with her mother's illness.

Over the course of all their respective dramas, Sam's friendship with Laurel remains resolute and crucial, warmed by the weight of twenty years of friendship. Sam feels trapped like the animals he cares for, and Laurel is tired of confusion and weary of feeling stuck.

Throughout the novel, Sam is faced with some difficult life choices: Dean seems non-committal and is always rushing off to New York to further his career, and Sam is unexpectedly presented with the option of working in Brazil. He eventually finds himself exhausted by the stamina required to juggle and amplify so many people's needs with happiness and love.

With his realistic characters and his obvious love for animals, Alex MacLennan's novel signifies the debut of a fresh, unique face on the queer-themed literary circuit. The author effectively transports the reader, telling us much about the fascinating role of the zookeeper, while also managing to unveil Sam's intimate and very private journey as he seeks to substitute comfort for risk.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2006

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