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Water for Elephants Sara Gruen

by Sara Gruen

Adult Fiction

Spoiler: None

Rating: R Coffee Beans: 5/5 (I am able to look past the “downside” I mention below to see the story as a whole, and it is breathtaking)

I’m happy to report, that next to The Gargoyle, I’ve just finished my favorite book of all time. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This book–from beginning to end–was amazing. The setting was perfect, the opening perfect, and the ending wonderful and memorable, and absolutely…you guessed it…perfect.

Alright! Enough with my gooey perfect-ness. Time to review! Seriously.

I remember buying this book at B&N when it first came out, back in 2006. I picked it up, glanced at the back and said, “Hmm. Looks interesting.” It sat on my bookshelf for four years, untouched and forgotten, becoming one of my many “I’ll read you next” books. It wasn’t until I saw a preview for the upcoming movie (April 22, 2011) that I remembered I owned the book. I was talking with a co-worker about the movie and told her I had the book if she wanted to read it. She did, and in a few days finished it, telling me it was amazing. I decided to read it to be prepared for the upcoming movie.

And I’m so glad I did. There are some books, that when you finish them, you sit back and relish the experience you just had. The story of someone’s life that you’ve just lived. And that’s what Water for Elephants was. The life of Jacob Jankowski. Not a work of fiction conjured up by Gruen. Water for Elephants was a living, breathing creature—well written and well told.

Set in depression-era America, the book opens with Young Jacob studying for his final exams at Cornell University to become a veterinarian, like his father. He’s ready to write his final when devastating news is delivered that his parents had been killed in a car accident, his father had been taking payment for veterinary services in beans and rice, his parents had taken out a mortgage on their house to pay for Jacob’s college, and the bank now owned the house and the vet practice.

Jacob is homeless with nothing to lose. So he hops a train to see where it takes him, only to find out it’s a circus act on the move. His story is told in first person present tense from Young Jacob’s POV, but there are chapters that we jump to the present-time, 91 (or is it 93?) –year-old Old Jacob.

I found myself wishing the entire book was written in just the circus timeframe and not with the flash forwards, but having completed the book, I see that in order to get the complete story and really obtain that “Wow” factor, Gruen had to tell us the story through Old Jacob’s eyes and failing mind.

I didn’t find myself as bothered by the present-tense story telling as much as I did when I was reading Hunger Games–this was much more natural and very smooth. The only thing I would call a “downside” to this book, were all the (what I deem) inappropriate sex and sex-type scenes. I guess I can see why Gruen put them in there (to show us how innocent and naive Jacob was), but I think she already established that in the very beginning when Jacob talked about a girl he liked at Cornell. Anyway, there were 3 or so of those scenes that probably could’ve been ommitted and the book still would’ve been a-ma-zing.

That was the only “downside” to the story, but I’m not much into reading scenes like that to begin with. It may be a selling point to you. There were a lot of scenes in the book that I’ll be interested to see how they handle in the movie (abuse of the animals, etc).Overall, it was a superb book. I’m planning on seeing the movie soon and I’ll let you all know how it compares to the book. I hope they don’t let me down.

I won’t tell you much more, because I don’t want to ruin it for you, you really need to consume and absorb this book for yourself. But I will tell you this much: Jacob is taken on as the circus’ vet where he makes friends and enemies, falls in love, and finally becomes a man–in more ways than one.

Oh! I should probably tell you this funny story before I go: I was in Costco the other day looking for a book. I was considering Jane Eyre, but was unsure because it was unabridged and I’m not that adventurous when it comes to that.

An older woman (50’s or 60’s) told me it was an amazing book and I should get it. Feeling I should return the favor, I told her she should pick up Water for Elephants (the cover was the movie poster with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson), that it was really good. I left her to consider it and went to the other side of the book table to browse.

Next thing I know, there’s another older woman standing with the first lady at Water for Elephants. I hear her say, “Yes, they’ve made it into a movie and it has that young man who plays in that vampire movie.” I glance up with a smirk, just in time to see the first lady snatch up a copy of Water and scamper away. It was priceless!

Trailer 1

Trailer 2


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