Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Short Review: Water for Elephants: A Novel, by Sara Gruen

Having finally gotten around to reading one of the bestsellers of 2008 a year late, I tried to reserve judgment on the book as long as humanly possible. Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants potentially has a lot going for it, exploring as it does the world of a Depression-era circus. Gruen's attention to detail is superb, immersing the reader in the vernacular of 1930s carnival workers with all of the cardboard pomp one would expect without going overboard to the point of ridiculousness.

Gruen's understanding of humanity, however, doesn't sparkle; her characterizations are flat and her prose is merely passable. The grand love affair between Jacob Jankowski, the circus' veterinarian, and Marlena, the menagerie director's wife, is never thoroughly felt by the reader, despite Gruen's assertions of emotion. While this is merely a hindrance to the fairly-entertaining circus storyline, however, there is another story arc following Jacaob's life as a "90 or 93"-year-old man in a nursing home. Here he is an angry old man whose motivations and thoughts are not clearly explored--he is simply "angry" and expresses determination to maintain his anger despite the suffocating nature of the nursing home. His story merely proves to be a hindrance to the novel.

While the book is interesting from a historical standpoint, it is not fantastic. I'd give it a C+.

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