Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Source: The library where I work
Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge, 451 challenge
First Sentence: "Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook."
Summary (From Goodreads):
Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell." Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
My Two Cents:
From the prologue on, I was hooked on this book. I would have finished it in less than one work shift, but I had those annoying things called patrons who kept walking through my door, so I couldn't!
I loved having Jacob as a narrator, but I liked him best when he was his current self rather than his 1930s-self (Make sense?). He was a feisty, hilarious old man who didn't want to take any guff from anyone, but who was also stuck in a situation where he had to "just do as he was told." But he wasn't all witty quips and snippy remarks; he was also profoundly sad that his family seemed no longer to have time for him, and he was genuinely excited that the circus was rolling into town.
One of the things I liked the most about Water for Elephants was the vivid portrayal of everyone on the circus -- from the lowest of the stagehands to the general manager himself, from the midget clown to the enormous elephant. Whether it's an accurate portrayal of what circus life was like in the 1930s or not, Gruen brings a whole new world to life, a world I'm sure many of us have wanted to see. How many people can attend even one circus and not wonder what it would be like to travel with them?
While some reviewers have called the ending "inevitable" and "obvious," I truly didn't see it coming until the very end. Perhaps I was just too caught up in everything else going on to think about how the book was going to end, but I'm glad that it did end that way. There were much more depressing ways this book could have ended, and we've had enough depressing endings floating around lately to fulfill my taste, thank you.
I would recommend this to anyone who's ever pondered running away with the circus, or anyone who likes vivid descriptions of people and settings.