Randolph Splitter

Bonobo Boy

A young African American woman doing primate research in Congo tries to rescue a baby bonobo whose parents have been killed by rebel soldiers for bush meat, but he doesn’t survive.

Later, her son Ben skips a grade and enters middle school as a brainy though socially awkward preadolescent. He makes friends with a gregarious Chinese American kid named Bao. Hitting puberty, he takes dance lessons and learns martial arts, but some of his encounters with girls and boys prove embarrassing, even traumatic. Smart, sensitive, and frequently thinking about sex, he identifies with the bonobos his mother used to study.

Ben’s father has an affair, and his parents split up. When he, Bao, and another friend dress up in gorilla suits, go trick-or-treating, and crash his father's Halloween party, Ben acts out his anger and alienation by "going ape.” 

In college, Ben studies hard, joins a fraternity at Bao’s urging, and has a romantic relationship with a young woman. During Hell Week, the fraternity brothers demonstrate male human behavior at its worst.

Another young woman claims to have been raped in the basement of the fraternity house. Circumstantial evidence points to Ben. His girlfriend turns against him, but his mom’s early mentor shows up as an expert witness for the defense. He defends Ben and the bonobos Ben identifies with as sensitive, peaceful creatures, less aggressive than chimps and humans. A plea bargain lands Ben in a highly ironic position between humans and their primate cousins. His girlfriend reconsiders—and signals a willingness to reconnect.

Selected Works

Novel
a wryly comic coming-of-age story that uses the model of our smart, sensitive primate cousins to take a closer look at adolescence, masculinity, and what it means to be human
a literary mystery about home, abandonment, and disconnection triggered by the discovery of a near-dead newborn in a trash can
Randolph Splitter's The Ramadan Drummer opens as a conventional (but compelling) mystery... At the same time, Splitter's mystery goes much deeper. In his novel, he explores questions of faith and fanaticism—and of love's ability to transcend both... The book soars because of its honest engagement with human complexity. —Mark Brazaitis, author of many books of fiction and poetry, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, Julia & Rodrigo, and Truth Poker
      The Ramadan Drummer is an ingenious detective novel set in the contact zone of cultures in an unnamed American city, where violence is always possible but where humanity endures. Splitter tackles the great issues of our time with wit and vision, and I couldn’t put this novel down. —Elizabeth Mckenzie, author of Stop That Girl, MacGregor Tells the World, and The Portable Veblen

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