The Circus Came to Town

Water For Elephants

by Sarah Gruen

OK, Folks… I have to start by asking a question.  You know how sometimes there’s so much talk about a popular movie and everybody tells you that “it’s such a good movie, you’ve got to go and see it?”  Then you go, but in the back of your mind, you’re expecting it to be “soooo funny” or “soooo good.”  Well, that’s kind of how I started this book; I was thinking that it was going to be such a great book.  Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t a great book.  It was a very good book.  But, I felt a bit let down because I was expecting it to be more than it was.  This was really unfair to the book as I started it with a pre-conceived eye.  I mean, the back of the book said “riveting” and was reviewed by Stephen King!

With that being said, this is a good book.  It’s a story told by a 90+ year old man who is in a retirement home/assisted living facility when he sees that the circus came to town outside the window.  Turns out, he had worked in the circus back in his day (the time of alcohol prohibition and the depression).  Throughout the book, the reader is brought to understand about his experience with the circus as well as where is life is now.  You pain for Jacob, the main character, being left in this retirement home by his family as they were busy being more caught up in their own lives, which makes you wonder with 5 kids why none of them could get over themselves and take care of Jacob. 

In any event, Jacob’s journey with the circus commences when his parents are suddenly killed in an accident.  Jacob, then attending Cornell and studying to be a veterinarian, is so grief stricken that he cannot complete his final exams.  He discovers that he has no home to return to as his parents mortgaged the house for his education and the bank has repo’d it.  Jacob finds his way to the train tracks and jumps a train… ends up being a circus train.  Over time, the circus characters are introduced and Jacob is retained by the circus to act as their vet. 

There is a love story here.  Marlena, the sequined gal who leads the liberty horses, becomes the woman of Jacob’s virgin dreams (yes, he’s a virgin).  However, there is a big obstacle to Jacob’s love… Marlena’s husband August (“Auggie”), who is certifiably insane.  August is a wife and animal abuser and the reader grows to hate this jerk with every growing chapter.  Big Al, the owner of the circus, is not much better and the reader really empathises with the circus workers and performers… not to mention those poor animals.  An elephant, Rosie, soon joins the traveling circus. I don’t want to tell too much about Rosie for those who have yet to read the book.  But, I love Rosie… but, then again… I love elephants (have a collection in my bedroom). 

I don’t want to disclose the ending, nor my opinions on it, for those who still have yet to read it.  It was a decent ending, but I didn’t find it that surprising nor all that fulfilling.  Overall, the book was a bit predictable and I got bored when the chapters went back to Jacob in the hospital, current day.  I actually would recommend the book, but I wouldn’t give it a ton of hype ahead of time…. rather, just let the reader form its own opinion about the novel.

The author, Sara Gruen, has some very interesting questions at the end of the book.  In addition, the interview with the author, also at the end, was a good read.  You learn about Sara’s journey into developing this story out of old photos of traveling circuses.

My favorite quote:

“The lot is covererd in long grass, but it’s brown and trampled, crispy as hay.  At the edges, near the tracks, tall weeds have taken over – tough plants with stringy stalks, small leaves, and compact flowers.  Designed to waste energy on nothing by getting their blooms up towards the sun.”

I’ve had those days where I do nothing but exert all of my energy for that one little moment of noticablility… only to have nobody see it at all.

On the “Out of Ten Scale” I’d give it a 7.5 stars…. or, maybe an 8.

This book can be purchased at Amazon.Com by clicking here.

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9 Responses to The Circus Came to Town

  1. Anna says:

    This has been on my list to read for awhile, but I haven’t got to it yet. I like that quote, too.

  2. Lisa says:

    I have had this book on my nightstand for many months and just haven’t gotten around to picking it up and reading it. I tend to expect too much from movies that people go on and on about. Seems I’m typically let down. Now you really have me curious about this book. I plan to read it soon and post my review. P.S. I found you thru J. Kaye’s blog. I’ll add you to my subscriptions! Take Care and stop by Books & Cooks anytime! 🙂

  3. Heather says:

    I’m glad you somewhat enjoyed this novel… I’m one of those people that falls into the category of hyping it up, because I LOVED it… I completely agree with you though, when books are hyped up so much, more often then not, they cannot live up. Sorry that happened to you with this one!

  4. Shana says:

    August sounds like a very bad man.

    I still want to read this one.

    I know what you mean about those ‘hyped up’ books. Expectations, expectations.

  5. tammywiz says:

    Nice blog. I’ll be back to visit again.

    Funny, I just posted a review about Water for Elephants yesterday. I agree with you post about the ‘hype’. I was overall impressed with Gruen’s writing, but the story left me feeling quite sad.

  6. lisamm says:

    We read this for my book club in July 2007. I went into it with no expectations at all and I loved it.. LOVED it. In fact, it was unanimous, which rarely happens at book club- everyone thought it was great. I thought the ending was perfect! We had a great meeting, talking about the nature of memories, the treatment of the elderly, nursing homes, the depression, the circus, the amount of research that went into the novel, etc. etc. Personally I would tell people to believe the hype! Or maybe, don’t listen to the hype at all, and then your expectations won’t be over the top.

  7. Lisa & Anna:

    Maybe it just was that I had too may pre-conceived thoughts about this book before I read it. The story is a good one and it was a very good book.

    I agree with Lisa’s comment on the amount of research that went into the novel. The author discusses it at the end of the paperback, in depth. I mentioned that in my review. I also agree with Lisa’s comment on the “nature of memories.” I find that my long term memory is, in fact, sometimes 100X more vivid than my short term. That must have made for an interesting discussion.

    I suppose I could upgrade my rating of the read, but that was honestly how I felt at the time of the review. When I compare this to some of my “favorites,” I can’t say that I “loved” it. But, I most certainly liked it and I would recommend it to friends/family for a read. In fact, I’ve already recommended it already.

    Thanks for your true, honest opinions about my review. I’ll use your thoughts to give myself a more well-rounded perspective in the future. I wish, wish, wish that I was in a book club. I just don’t know enough readers like myself.

    Have a great Saturday.

    Sher

  8. J. Kaye says:

    I’ve been on the fence about reading this book. Just about everyone I know who read it has raved about it. Me? Like a psychic, I get a bad feeling. When you posted “It was a decent ending, but I didn’t find it that surprising nor all that fulfilling. Overall, the book was a bit predictable and I got bored…” Key word there is “bored”. I just have a feeling that I won’t be able to stay with the book. I’m passing on this one. Thank you for your honestly. Makes my decision feel right.

  9. Yasmin says:

    Okay…I enjoyed your review…it was very honest and candid. Guess what…I still want to read the book…your review did what it was supposed to do for me…it piqued my interest…another book for the ever growing TRP…sigh. I guess I could have worse vices…lol.

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