Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen [Review]

Posted 31 January, 2011 by DLWhite in Reviews, Writers Read 2 Comments

Water for Elephants Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

I started this book on the audio version, at first a bit turned off by the obvious attempt to make the narrator sound aged. On reflection, I simply wasn’t a fan of the narrator, and that, plus an intriguing story line is what makes an audio book interesting for me. I can only listen to a book in the car, so if it can’t block out traffic irritation for me, it isn’t an audio book that’s going to work for me. Not only did the narrator irritate me, but so did traffic. It wasn’t engrossing or distracting at all.

By the time I switched to the eBook, interest in this novel was on life support. I’ve found that while I read, I skip a lot. Too much detail? Skim. Boring dialog I don’t care about? Skip. When I’m unable to skip past parts I don’t feel like reading, I feel trapped by the author in the minutiae and I resent that. Once I picked up the eBook, I was able to read more quickly, pick up the story and get to the climax.

Water for Elephants is set in a Depression Era circus called the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The RingMaster, Uncle Al and his right hand man, the Equestrian Director August, quite clearly want to be Ringling Brothers. They’ll never measure up, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. The main character, Jacob, ends up with the Benzini Brothers after he loses his parents, his future, and his home, all in one fell swoop. One moment a promising veterinarian with a promising practice waiting for him. The next, “roustabout” shoveling animal dung out of stalls.

When Big Al finds him stowing away, his Veterinary knowledge is his only saving grace. He’s hired as the Circus Vet, to work with the animals, namely to check out the show’s stars: Silver Star and her trainer, Marlena. It’s obvious, right away, that Jacob has a “thing” for Marlena. Who is married to August.

Drama ensues, and becomes the crux of the entire story.

In between tales of life on the rails with the Circus are interspersed stories of Jacob in the future, in his 90’s, reminiscing, remembering, regretting. He is long forgotten in a nursing home, resentful of the fact that he’s living amongst those who aren’t in their right minds. The highlight of Jacob’s week is a visit to the local circus that’s in town. He’s been looking forward to it for days.

I checked a few other reviews, just to make sure that my analysis of the characters wasn’t totally off. I liked Jacob, some. Not a whole lot, but I think that was more an issue with the narrator than anything. His naivete kept me biting my nails and his bravery came so late in the story that it was maddening. August was confusing… the revealing of his mental condition came too late, for me. I think it would have added to the plot if it had been revealed earlier in the story. I wasn’t a fan of Marlena. Her characterization fell flat, to me. The convenience of her feelings seemed sudden and unexplained and her damsel-in-distress act didn’t bring any feelings of sorrow or worry.

I did feel for the elephant, Rosie. She made me laugh and cry and cheer. Smart animal. Very smart animal.

In my rating, 5 stars is impeccable, 4 is very good, 3 is okay, average. This book scored a firm 2 for me. It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t really good, either.

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2 Responses to “Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen [Review]”

  1. Stephanie

    I’ve heard so many great things about this book….movie trailer look pretty good. Interesting to read an alternative review! Thanks!