Friday, July 25, 2008

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is something new from me--a review of a book I read.

I just finished reading Water for Elephants, which I had heard good things about--nothing specific, but good things, nonetheless--by several people--"This is a great book! Have you read it?" So, I really didn't know what to expect when I opened the book to page one and started reading.

Oh my goodness! I loved the story instantly. It didn't hurt that the main character has the same last name as one of my cats' former last name (I decided that Boudrage suited her better than Jankowski, although I still like the sound of the latter).

This book is not only well-written--the characters, even the animals, come to life in striking contrast to each other. I couldn't help but love Jacob and sympathize with Marlena regarding her abusive relationship with her husband. I will say that I have a difficult time, as a counselor experienced in meeting individuals with schizophrenia, paranoid type, to swallow that this character's violence and temper tantrums had anything whatsoever to do with schizophrenia. If you've read my earlier entry, you will know how I feel about people's lack of understanding of this particular mental illness (even though it can't really be blamed...). This doesn't detract from how much I loved Rosie and Bobo and the horses, just as much as Jacob and Marlena did--especially Rosie. And, it certainly doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the story overall.

For a long time while reading, I was sure that Jacob saw Marlena kill her abusive husband, and I thought, "Well, he deserved it!" The real culprit was surprising and just as suited to the task! It was fabulous! I laughed incredibly hard in the last chapters when Gruen described, through Jacob's clear memory, what happened after the Big Top collapsed. It's one of those stories where all the bad guys get what's coming to them, and most of the good guys get what they want (sorry, to spoil it), but even so, it's a great book. There were times when I was outraged, too, don't get me wrong. I love a book that causes me to laugh, cry, shout, etc. It means it's a good story. Unfortunately, I don't always get to read a well-written good story, and this one was that.

I love how the story weaves back and forth between Jacob at 93 and Jacob in his early 20's, and how the reader knows where the next chapter will be, based on whether there's a circus picture at the start of the chapter or not. Very clever way to let us know just what time we're in. No surprises, there. There are enough of the other surprises without having this unnecessary one.

I strongly recommend this book to fiction readers. I would never have imagined that I would enjoy a novel set in a circus, per se, but I can't say enough how much I enjoyed this one. It's a love story, but it's more than that, so much more. I was moved far more than I ever imagined.

Thanks for reading.


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