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.

2 comments:

Fussy Sock Washer said...

Amen. Even though the ending falls a little flat, this book ranks up there with The Time Traveler's Wife and Everything is Illuminated as one of the most engrossing works of fiction I've read in the past couple of years.

Anonymous said...

I started laughing at the pat storyline and absurdity of this book about half way through and never recovered. If you break faith with the thin storyline, the jig is up. The main character is total pablum. I know it's supposed to be a very heartsy tale but I thought the circus motif was just a cover for flat characters and lack of insight into the real world.