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.