Tuesday, March 18, 2008
"Water for Elephants"
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, is the story of Jacob, a young veterinary student who's about to complete his degree and join his father's rural practice when his parents are killed in a car accident. It's 1931; hard times have taken everything his family had, and Jacob is left with nothing. In grief and desperation, he jumps on a moving train. Turns out it's a circus train -- fortunately for Jacob, this circus could use a vet. Unfortunately, it's a second-rate circus run by truly cruel people, and he has to watch his back as well as the animals. Needless to say, he grows up fast.
Jacob tells his story in flashback. He is ninety, now, or ninety-three; he doesn't really know. He's in a nursing home and beginning not to recognize his children and grandchildren. The circus comes to town, and triggers memories that seem more real than the face he sees in the mirror.
This is a really good yarn, and an absorbing, fast read. It's also well-researched. Gruen truly evokes the life of a Depression-era circus behind Jacob's touching story; her characters are vivid and real.
Some in our reading group thought that the ending was overly fanciful; I can see this criticism, but forgave it. Part of the novel's charm, I thought.
How 'bout you, read anything good lately?