Book Shopping: “Water For Elephants”
“Water For Elephants” by Sara Gruen is the perfect escape novel because it is a novel about the circus! And what better place to escape than the place that made us euphoric as children? Gruen’s style of writing never gets in the way of the wonderful story she tells.
It is the story of Jacob, a young man who loses everything: his parents, his parents’ estate, his position at college. He has nowhere to turn … until he accidentally discovers the Benzini Bros. circus trains going through town and hops aboard.
This is the beginning of a life within the circus world. And it is a story you won’t be able to put down. I was in New York with three girlfriends when I was reading it, and I gladly sent them out shopping just so I could have an afternoon alone reading, feeling as thought I was at the circus. This is how compelling the book is!
The story depicts Jacob’s innocent love for Marlena, the young beauty who worked with the horses; her husband August is truly one of the most frightening characters in recent fiction: mercurial, jealous, violent. You sense the tension as Jacob tries to protect Marlena from August, and the tension as August senses the growing relationship between them and bristles because of it.
Even more compelling is the story of Rosie the elephant, purchased to enhance the circus’ cache and draw in the general public. If you have an elephant, you are truly a circus in the style of Ringling Bros., something to be desired by all circus owners. It was easy to fall in love with Rosie, with her wit, her intelligence, her loyalty to those who showed love to her. Because the author does such a great job of connecting us to Rosie, August’s regular mistreatment of her and the subsequent result is a story you will not soon forget. I don’t cry easily, and it made me cry.
But perhaps the most poignant part of this book is the fact Jacob is telling the story from his wheelchair in a nursing home, where, in his old age, he has been living, alone and lonely. There is the occasional friendly nurse, but for the most part, Jacob lives in his memories and takes us with him to the past. So when the circus comes to town and Jacob can see the tents being set up in a nearby field, he is determined to get there.
The story within the story, of Jacob’s “escape” from the nursing home into his new existence in the circus at the end of his life, will also bring you to tears. It’s extremely humanizing. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, this is a book you will love and cherish and think about for a long time after you put it down. And, in the end, isn’t this what a good novel is supposed to do? In “Water For Elephants” you get to escape and you get to think and ponder existence.
I’d call this value for the price of the book.