Sunday, December 11, 2011

ReView of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen ; elephants, circus, love, psychological, humorous

The back cover of this book says the following "And he met Rosie, an un-trainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show.  The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was ultimately their only hope for survival." The book gives you the illusion that this is happening.  As the story unfolds, the reality is that Rosie has only to do with the survival and success of the circus.  The real plot surrounds the actual trio of August, Marlena, and Jacob.  Rosie is more like a filler in their lives rather than the forefront stimulus for why everything happens, and she happens to enter the book around the half-way mark and continues with little presence.  This is one of my biggest disappointments with this book.

I had this big hope while I was reading that the elephant, Rosie, was going to have a HUGE impact in their relationship when in the end it's the dynamics of these three characters BETWEEN EACH OTHER that ultimately defines the conclusion of the story.  Rosie is present, and has a bit to do with influencing their behaviors, but it is not in a great way the determining factor of how the story unfolds.  That's what I felt toward this book.  Am I wrong?  Maybe, but that questions the structure and the writing of the book as well.  Is it possible that I misunderstood the book?  Maybe, but then again that is also a reflection of how the plot was written.  There is definitely a missing link between what you are to expect and what you receive through the book.

The only way to salvage the time I spent reading this book is to appreciate it for its better qualities.  I have to start with the style of the writing.  I felt instantly inspired to read this book because of the fashion in which the imagery is laid out.  Sara Gruen has a very eloquent writing style in which she makes sure she lets your imagination feel the plot of the story.  The writing, rather than the plot, is the ultimate driving force for this book, I believe.  She's definitely an incredible writer in terms of language and style, but I feel less inclined to think she's a good writer from the aspect of the plot and story.  One of my favorite parts in her writing were the following:

'Every night, I lie on my smelly horse blanket in the corner and replay our last conversation, word for precious word.  I follow the same tortured trajectory over and over - from my rush of disbelieving joy to may crashing deflation.  I know that dismissing me was the only thing she could do, but even so, I can barely stand it.  Just thinking about it leaves me so agitated I toss and writhe until Walter tells me to know it off because I'm keeping him up."

"She clings to me as tightly as if I were keeping her from being sucked into a vortex."

Another pleasant aspect of the book was it's humor.  They were few and far in between, nevertheless, I would be reading and I'd feel pleasantly surprised to be hit with a humorous scenario.  A few of my favorites are these moments.

"Camel pats my arm in a congratulatory fashion. 'You're in, kid.'"
"I am ?"
"Yep, Now go shovel some shit.  I'll catch up with you later."

This was the moment when Jacob first arrives and first becomes part of the circus.  With the greatest hope that he'll have a place to work and eventually have a place to stay and eat, he's greeted with this ultimate job option.  It's hilarious.

"There could be a riot in the tent and I wouldn't know it.  There's not a drop of blood left in my head."
You can possibly let your imagination take you and you can figure out in what context this was and why it's so funny.

"This is the first time I've ever seen a woman naked and I don't think I'll ever be the same."
This is a funny comment if you know who was the woman he saw naked and in which context.  It's definitely one of my favorite funny scenes.

"This here's the stupidest goddamned animal on the face of the earth." 
This is such a funny part because the guy who's selling the animal is so fed up with it that he's loosing it.  He knows so little about the animal, he knows nothing about what the animal can do, and he can't even get the animal to work with him that he comes to the conclusion the animal's just stupid.  What I think is funny about this statement is the highly aroused reaction he has to the animal...

Lastly, another favorite part of this book was all the quotes I could pull from it.  She's absolutely a good writer, and she has plenty of quotes with wisdom or universalism.  Here are just a few.

"Time to rise and shine."  "What for?" I grumble. "Because the good Lord has seen fit to bless you with another day."

"Keep up the appearance of having all your marbles is hard work but important."

"Why?  That's what I want to know.  I hate this bizarre policy of protective exclusion, because it effectively writes me off the page.  If I don't know what's going on in their lives, how am I supposed to insert myself in the conversation?"

Overall an O.K. book.  I am glad I read it, now I know what it's all about. Let's just say that if I was ever to read this book again, it would not be for the plot, but rather for the stylistic writing and the vocabulary.

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