Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen (Algonquin; $14.95; 448 pages)
Following a tragic accident, where Jacob Jankowski finds that not only has he lost both of his parents, but everything he owns, he is forced to immediately recreate his life. Jacob walks out of his Ivy League veterinary medical exams and while wandering aimlessly decides to hop a train, a decision that alters his future. The train, it turns out, belongs to the Benzini Brothers, a second-rate traveling circus act. At the ripe young age of twenty-one, Jacob becomes the circus vet, an undesirable position working for a relentless boss.
To make matters worse, Jacob falls in love with Marlena, a star performer and the wife of an abusive paranoid schizophrenic, who is in charge of training the animals that Jacob cares for.
Told from the perspective of a ninety-something Jacob, now living in a nursing home, Gruen spares no details as she depicts the story of life with the circus. Through descriptions of the grimy, disgusting living conditions, the filthy abused animals that eat unspeakable food, and the corrupt coworkers, we wait with bated breath to read what dangerous, life-threatening situation Jacob will be privy to next.
Sara Gruen has done her research and truly brings each circus act alive as you, the audience, watch Jacob’s life in the circus unfold. The ending is surreal but quite lovely. I look forward to seeing the film, which will be released this month.
This book was purchased by the reviewer.