Thursday, November 02, 2006
Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
What a wonderful story. This is a truly engrossing page-turner that hits almost all the right notes and meticulously paints a picture of a time when the world was much larger. Just as he’s about to graduate from college and take his final exams to become a veterinarian, Jacob Jankowski loses his parents in a tragic car accident. Finding they had mortgaged absolutely everything to put him through school, he despondently hops a freight only to find it’s a circus train. The Greatest Show on Earth it ain’t. The Benzini Bros. Circus is as third rate as it comes but Jacob finds work as a much-needed vet. Gruen did a ton of research and it shows–her evocation of this Depression-era circus, the language of the time and how a circus functions, day to day and town to town, is remarkable. The characters that people the circus are memorable and she manages to humanize the minor characters--the roustabouts, dwarves and cooch dancers--as well as the main characters like Uncle Al, the sadistic ringmaster and boss; August, the psychotic head animal trainer and his wife, the circus’ star, Marlena, whom Jacob falls for immediately; even Rosie the elephant. The only disappointment was the ending, part of which I could see coming a mile away. Still I cried like the fool I am for stories like this. This is a must-read.