Published April 9th 2006 by Algonquin BooksWhenever I visit bookstores, I am immediately drawn to the bestsellers section. I tend to read mostly bestsellers. I figure, if millions of other people have read it, it must be good, right? "Water for Elephants" was a book that I must have picked up at least a couple dozen times and for whatever reason, it just didn't grab me. I couldn't see what was so interesting about the circus. Admittedly, the reason I chose to read this book was because it was recently released as movie and I didn't want the movie and all of it's commercials on TV to ruin my own vision of the story in my head. This is surprising very frequently the impetus for most my decisions on what to read next.
This story follows Jacob Jankowski, who is telling his story in flashbacks of his time working with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth when he was much younger. The way it's told reminds me a lot of the way Nicholas Sparks wrote "The Notebook" and I found the frequent flashbacks very enjoyable to read because it nicely tied the past to the present along the way. At the beginning of the story, you are left with a cliffhanger and you spend the rest of the story trying to figure out what leads to that cliffhanger. (Those of you that have read the story, did anyone else feel like they read the beginning wrong when they figured out the ending? I'm curious if it was just me reading too fast.)
Lately, I keep finding myself reading books that are "so dark, but so good." "Water for Elephants" would definitely fit into that category. The author, Sara Gruen, does not hold back on any of the gritty details of the circus industry in all of it's glory and all of it's ugliness during the early Great Depression time period. There are things that were very, very hard to read, especially knowing that Sara did extensive research into circus life and even used snippets from real life stories she came across in her research. I tend to fall towards the more conservative-moderate end of the spectrum, so I had a hard time stomaching they way she described some of the more sexual events in the story. Overall, it was very eye-opening on just how gruesome circus life was, especially if you were in the lower levels of the social hierarchy system. Some of the facts are almost too cruel to be believable in my opinion.
The girl in the story is Marlena and she is the star of the show with her beautiful horses. She is married to the wrong guy, who just so happens to be one of the head honchos on the show. She and Jacob befriend each other and predictably, things get complicated. He also builds a relationship with an elephant and I just love how Sara Gruen intertwines Jacob, Marlena and Rosie the elephant in the story.
This story is beautifully written. There is great ebb and flow to the rhythm of the story and once it captured me, I definitely regretted waiting this long to finally read it. It gripped me from the beginning and didn't really let go even when it ended.
This is book #11 of the year. I am participating in the 2011 Goodreads Reading Challenge. My goal is to read 50 books this year.