I just finished Water for Elephants last week. This is the New York Times bestseller, the one that looks like it should have an “Oprah’s Book Club” ribbon printed on the front. In short, the kind of book I try to stay away from. (So I’m a book snob. Sue me.) Yet on a whim I snagged it off Paperbackswap.com and on a recommendation from Vox I moved it to the top of my “to-read” list. Glad I did.
Sara Gruen did not get her start as a Nanowrimo author, as far as I can tell, nor was Water for Elephants composed in a month. But her previous book, Flying Changes, is said to have gotten its start as part of the frenetic novel-writing marathon (which, of course, begins today). But enough of that.
The book is set on a circus train in the Depression, in backlots of Midwestern cities that all look the same. Our hero is a young orphaned veterinarian from Cornell. There is a love interest, a five-hundred-pound (or so) woman, a schizophrenic, a dwarf named Kinko, and (as you may expect) an elephant.
Through it all there are occasional references to the present day, where Jacob Jankowski at ninety-three lives out the end of his days in a nursing home. The story is beautifully told, funny at the right parts and horrifying where it needs to be. Jacob’s an immensely likeable narrator at either age, and the ending, though cheesy, is incredibly satisfying.
The very picky reader will notice that Sara Gruen repeats a few well-worn phrases to the point of obnoxiousness, but I would tell the very picky reader to lighten up and enjoy the ride. This is a wonderful story that anyone and everyone can enjoy–even if you’ve never entertained the notion of running away to join the circus.