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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Water for Elephants: A Novel » User review

Wish It Were Everlasting

  • Jun 5, 2011
Rating:
+5
We've all had the pleasure of reading and enjoying a book so much that we simply could not put it down, right?  And we've all heard the expression, "It was a real page turner!"  These both hold true for Sara Gruen's book, Water for Elephants.  It is a mesmerizing and simple tale filled with a brilliant cast of characters, good humor and intense desperation at some moments.  It doesn't try so hard to be elegant and poise, but it does it's best to be a really good story.  And it succeeds.

The book centers on Jacob Jankowski.  A man who, after learning of the death of his parents, breaks down just as he's about to graduate from Cornell and become a vet.  While wandering he hops on a train that just happens to be for the "Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth!"  At first he's unsure of this new venture, but when he discovers that they need a vet he gets to stay.  There he meets Uncle Al, the ringmaster of the circus, and a man named August who is in charge of the animals.  But the most perplexing person that Jacob Jankowski meets is the beautiful Marlena--August's wife.  And, of course, he can't help but feel emotionally attached to her.  At first it seems fine to be traveling with the circus.  Jacob's job is to care for the animals.  But pretty soon he and Marlena are in for a rude awakening when Jacob discovers that everyone has a dark side and that it can be scary.  Soon it's less about caring for the animals (particularly Rosie--the elephant) and more about hoping they can survive long enough to escape.

The story ALSO showcases Jankowski as an old man.  The story is told from that man's point of view.  At 93, he's in a nursing home recalling all of this because he is haunted by memories of being with the Benzini Brothers.  But while he narrates his past life, we also see him living his current.  Where he is a nursing home with several people helping him.  As we get to know Jacob as a young man, we can see how he's become shaped into the old man that he is.  As you can imagine, his days as a 93 year old man are not quite as interesting as his days as a 23 year old man.  There's not as much excitement... but there is certainly a lot of humor going on as Jacob tries to hold on to a youth he once had, and as he tries his best to show he isn't helpless.

What makes Water for Elephants so astounding, is the unusual pace at which the book presses forward.  It is just about perfect.  It's a quick and simple read moving at a good pace.  As the action keeps rising all the way up to the fantastic climax we come to love the characters--particularly Jacob who is always willing to do the right thing.  Even the so-called villains become infinitely perplexing as a result of this.  We're not just dealing with "Good guys," versus "Bad guys," here.  We're dealing with full blown and fully developed characters.  At least in terms of the major ones.  There's not too much back story or too little.  But we come to want to root for Jacob (and Marlena) to be able to escape the hell that they're in.  In particular August was an odd take on an antagonist.  Not only does he have his menacing moments, but he's also so damn charming at the same time.  If it weren't for making clear early on that August isn't to be trusted, you'd want him as a friend.

Another great aspect of the book is that it's got a wicked sense of humor, but it comes at appropriate moments.  From some of Jacob's inner thoughts as an old man (and some of his actions) to some of the situations he gets himself into as a young man.  There are moments where it's hard not to laugh.  And this is among some of the sorrow and worry you'll see throughout the novel.  There will be moments where you'll laugh and then feel heartbroken shortly there after.  It's not exactly a roller coaster of emotions, though.  As funny as the book is, and as heartwarming as the book is there's nothing here that'll make you want to laugh and cry at the same time (or if you're unsure whether or not you should be doing one or the other).  For the most part Water for Elephants is fairly plain and direct.

The writing in and of itself is the simplest of it all.  Which may, indeed, be why it seems to keep pushing forward.  Sara Gruen doesn't waste a lot of time throwing in several complex metaphors, but she's not exactly dumbing anything down either.  If one thing is clear, it is that the story is what is important to her as a writer.  In particular she has a keen ear for dialog as it all comes naturally, honestly and without any kind of hesitation.  I imagine a lot of people will be fuming with some of the language used throughout the novel and that a lot of people may not take too kindly to some of the more sexual situations presented in this book.  There isn't a lot of graphic description.  As I said, telling the story was far more important.  On the the other hand, with some of the situations going on in the novel one has to wonder how in the hell a film adaptation could've possibly escaped with a PG-13 rating.

Water for Elephants was an absolutely fantastic book.  One that is light, but not exactly fluffy.  The characters are amazing, the situations are bizarre, but most important the story is just all around good, fun, emotionally satisfying and purely entertaining.  A recommended read for anyone.

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June 05, 2011
excellent review. I do have to make time for more reading (working on a couple) but with this, I think I'll see the film first since I know the source material would be superior. Oh, yes....I am one of your fans (FB) LOL! How have you been, Sean?
 
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More Water for Elephants: A Novel reviews
review by . September 17, 2008
Let me be the 1,455th to tell you about this modern classic!    Poignant, funny, happy, sad, violent, tender, this circus story hits every emotion in perfect pitch and pacing, told through the eyes of an old man (not sure how old) abandoned (not quite) by his family (large and loving and dutiful) in a nursing home who is spurred to remembrance of his Depression years on the circus by the sight of a circus outside his nursing home room.    The title job is …
review by . August 06, 2010
As an avid reader of compelling fiction novels, I felt that Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" was an absolute treat to read. She effectively used humor without being too overwhelmingly with her wit. The novel is structured in a way - with a an elderly man telling the story of time spend in the circus - that enables to the reader to become completely immersed not only in the plot of the novel, but in the life of the "narrator".       …
review by . June 22, 2010
Water For Elephants brings readers into the nursing home life and memories of ninety-(or ninety-three, he isn’t sure) year-old Jacob Jankowski, a cantankerous yet lovable old man who once worked on the circus. The prologue immediately draws readers into the excitement, complex love, and drama of life under the Big Top when the circus performance erupts in disaster and chaos, leaving Jacob to witness a scene that he will not reveal for the next seventy years. Though readers know the secret …
review by . June 27, 2010
I could not possibly recommend this book more; it is one of my favorite of all time. There are so many elements to this story; it is a tale of love, of pain and heart ache, of history and hard times, of adventure and a world most of us will never see. The book encompasses an entire life span, and is written so well that even the minute cliche elements feel true. It is filled with gut and heart-wrenching emotions and has a plot that keeps the pages turning. When I finished this book for the first …
review by . March 24, 2010
Absolutely wonderful
Ninety-year old Jacob lives in a nursing home where he spends most days parked in the hallway, waiting for Sundays when a visitor comes. He's excited because a traveling circus has set up next door and he can't wait to go. He flashes back to his youth during the Depression, when he was penniless and joined a third-rate circus as an almost-qualified vet. There, he fell in love with Marlena, the beautiful star horsewoman. Unfortunately, his boss was her brutish husband.       I …
review by . August 11, 2010
This is one of the first adult novels I have read in a while. I say that because I am a YA writer, so I try to ground myself in YA. However, this book was not a chore to read. I heard about this book through the production of its movie. The plot had me interested, so I did a little digging to find the book- it was really hard to find it cheap because it gained popularity so quickly. I got through this book so quickly, I couldn't believe I was done. The way Sara tells this story is amazing. I …
Quick Tip by . August 06, 2010
I almost managed to read this book in one sitting! It is ridiculously entertaining. Romance, danger, men with anger issues, a wise elephant... what more can one ask for in a fun read? I really enjoyed the way the the story was set up, switching from past to present pretty fluidly and with one overarching mystery that resolves itself in a highly satisfactory manner.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Melville gives new meaning to the word Obsession. But along the way he paints a wonderful potrait of American life on the sea in the mid 1800's.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Touching story, wonderfully written
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Good book! Very interesting.
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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Jacob Jankowski says: "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other." At the beginning ofWater for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn't always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn't a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn't write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.

Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob's life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the "menagerie" and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving, venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights into ...

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Details

ISBN-10: 1565125606
ISBN-13: 978-1565125605
Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Date Published: April 9, 2007
Format: Paperback: 350 pages, Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
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