WATER FOR ELEPHANS By Sara Gruen [Review]

water for elephants book

Orphaned during the Great Depression, twenty-three year old Jacob Jankowski runs away from veterinarian training at Cornell to join the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth; a traveling circus. It’s there he falls in love with Marlena, a horse performer and wife of abusive animal trainer, August. The story is narrated by Jacob 70 years after his time on the circus, when he’s ninety-three and aging in a nursing home.

WATER FOR ELEPHANS creates a very real glimpse into circus life and has an interesting, well-developed plotline that flows right from the beginning. Gruen does an excellent job at forming well-rounded characters who are as different and unique as you’d expect circus workers to be.

I’m usually wary of women authors who write from a man’s perspective. I feel like they have to overcompensate for the voice by using more vulgar language and providing more sexual imagery than they would if the character was a female. In this case, Gruen proves me right. There are many scenes involving other circus performers that are lewd and somewhat offensive that I didn’t feel were crucial to plotline or character development. Not only that, Gruen seems to spend more time on creating this rich and complex world and switching from ninety-three year old Jacob to twenty-three year old Jacob that she drops the love story line in enough places making it shallow and almost unbelievable. Towards the middle of the book Rosie the elephant is introduced, and Gruen seems to shift the plotline to center around the animal; but again, she doesn’t focus enough of her attention in enough places to make a real sense of what she wants to accomplish.

Overall, I generally liked the book. I like reading time period pieces and there are so many interesting ways to write about the Great Depression—the circus being one of them. But I do feel like this book gets way more credit than it deserves.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars | Publisher: Algonquin Books | Pages: 335 | Source: Library | Buy on Amazon

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