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.
The complete title of this book is Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon. This is about as long as the book itself, which is an easy and fast read. Such is the good news. The bad news is that, well, there’s not a lot here…
This is supposed to be a chronicle of a single day in a large animal hospital, but that’s just the pretense. It’s immediately clear that the book is filled with the stories of animal and panicked owner interactions that occurred months and years earlier. So why pretend that it’s about “24 hours in a pet hospital”?
The stories are more anecdotes than detailed stories, and often relate to how Dr. Trout assisted some poor young (in experience if not actual years) and confused resident. There’s not enough detail to create real tension, which makes the reader wonder why this book has been sold as an animal-world version of the television show House? Perhaps it is because Dr. Trout appears to be a man of ego.
Another concern is that although it is a Target Bookmarked Breakout selection, there is more than a bit of sexism in how the good Dr. relates to women. Was this supposed to be humorous or sarcastic or something else?
Instead of spending $14.00 or so for this collection of quick hit-and-miss tales, I’d advise animal lovers to instead consider ordering a classic that was written by a veterinarian back in 1980. That book is All My Patients Are Under the Bed by the late Dr. Louis J. Camuti, which is full of charming tales and in which the doctor’s love for his feline patients was absolutely and completely transparent. As a sign of the relevance of All My Patients… it is currently available as a trade paperback (Fireside, $14.00) that can be ordered via Amazon or your independent book seller.
As to Tell Me Where It Hurts, I found it to be not serious enough to be memorable and not humorous enough to be truly enjoyable. Frankly, it was more than a mystery to me. I’m still confused… If I were asked to describe it in 10 words or less, I’d say “Cute, but not cute enough.”
Note: This book was purchased by the reviewer.