Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CBR IV Review #4 - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

“The more distressing the memory, the more persistent it's presence. ” 

I don't have a lot to say about this one.  I saw the movie when it came out last year and enjoyed it.  Didn't blow my mind, but I liked it enough to want to read the source material.  The book is always better, right?  So if I enjoyed the movie, I should LOVE the book?  Well, in this case, it was a pretty faithful adaptation.  As such, I felt just as lukewarm about the book as the movie - a pleasant way to spend time, but not something I feel passionately about one way or the other.  Except for what happens to August.  But I'm jumping ahead.
This meh-fest is about a young man named Jacob who joins the circus after his parents are suddenly and tragically killed, ending his future as a vet.  He stumbles upon the train for the Benzini Brothers (an outfit constantly living in the shadow of Ringling) and his skills with animals get him a job on the show.  He falls for the married horse performer, Marlena, which is problematic as her husband, the animal trainer August, has some serious mental problems to contend with.  The story builds on their relationship as a triangle, throwing in some other characters like Big Al (the man who runs the show), a crippled old man and a dwarf with a dog, although the people who really MATTER are our three points of the triangle and an elephant named Rosie.  Rosie is really the key to how everything progresses, as what happens to and with her moves everything along.  And she is easily my favorite character.

The story is told in a dual timeline fashion - we start out at the event that the whole book builds to explain, which is the animals of the circus being set loose on a crowded house, and the death of August.  It jumps from this to an eldery Jacob, living in a nursing home and slowly giving way to the terrors of old age.  The circus comes to town, setting off Jacob's memories, which we then get to jump into.  On the whole, the transitions between these two times is clear and easy to follow, which I appreciate a great deal.  And the amount of research that went into this book seems fairly clear - you need a LOT of knowledge about the circuses post depression to be able to write this as thoroughly as Ms. Gruen does.  However, like I said, while it's enjoyable, it didn't blow my mind.  So it's worth wiling away some hours, but not something I'd run out to get a copy of.