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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 madness and brutality often have Jacob as their object. Jacob is the only person in the book who has a handle on a moral compass and as his reward he spends most of the novel beaten, broken, concussed, bleeding, swollen and hungover. He is the self-appointed Protector of the Downtrodden, and... he falls in love with Marlena, crazy August's wife. Not his best idea.
The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch. There is one glorious passage about Marlena and Rosie, the bull elephant, that truly evokes the magic a circus can create. It is easy to see Marlena's and Rosie's pink sequins under the Big Top and to imagine their perfect choreography as they perform unbelievable stunts. The crowd loves it--and so will the reader. The ending is absolutely ludicrous and really quite lovely. --Valerie Ryan
Gruen had me hooked in the opening pages when I found myself nodding in agreement with the frustrations of getting old, and especially having to depend on others for help. Read morePublished 18 minutes ago by A. J. Chapel
Great read, kept me engaged, I didn't want to put the book down. I was sad when it ended, I really wanted it to keep going.Published 5 days ago by Jennifer L Colton
Loved this book.The plot is simple but the unspoken message touched my heart for so many reasons. Would be a great book club selection.Published 6 days ago by Amazon Customer
That gets five stars from me. And this one may be more action oriented than literary, but I love it. The commentary on aging is contemporary and acute. Read morePublished 6 days ago by Deborah Copper