Monday, January 17, 2011

4. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

To be quite honest, circuses freak me out. It's not the clowns--for whatever reason, all of the irrational dislikes and fears that I have do not extend to clowns--but more of the creepy gap between the spectacle that goes on in the front and the cruel, dirty conditions that exist in the back. I know logically that circus conditions must be better now than they were when the stereotypes were created, but they still freak me out.

I should have considered this a bit before picking up Water for Elephants, but I was completely intrigued by the name and the random bits of praise that I had heard here and there in the past several years. By the time I realized what I had mentally dove into, it was too late--the plot was moving at breakneck speed, and I was completely hooked.

I was a little dissatisfied throughout by how the Cornell situation was never completely resolved--I mean, where did Jacob's dorm belongings go, for instance?--and also felt at times that the sheer horror of some of Jacob's experiences verged on fantasy. The fantasy was continued by Jacob and Marlena's seemingly perfect love. I kept waiting for Jacob to reveal that the wife with whom he had had five children, and whom he had lost to cancer, was in fact not Marlena. Somehow, with no true development of their relationship, they fell in love and were meant to be together forever.

By the way, why have the main characters of my last two books both been Jacobs?

Sometimes it was better if I didn't try to imagine things that carefully, and instead just let some of the more colorful details wash over me. At other times I was a little shocked by how daring Sara Gruen is as a writer, not necessarily in the sense of some groundbreaking plot element, but in her descriptions and diction. I let those parts wash over me too, and quietly wondered if this is what it takes to make it as an author these days.

I did love the book though, and not just because it was the first contemporary book I've read so far in this yearlong goal of mine. The setting is unique, the cover is beautiful, and now that I'm not always quite so apprehensive over what will happen to all the characters I care about, I could probably even read and enjoy it again.

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