Monday, January 31, 2011

Water for Elephants, a JaSexxy review...


Well I want to say that this book was amazing! A must read!  A modern classic!  But sadly I can say none of those things.  I started off with high expectations and came away with, eh, it was good.  It started off with such promise, what a  great premise; 1930's carnival life and elephants!  How cool is that!  But what I got was a watered down version of what I expected.  No pun intended.  The problem with the story is it lacked substance.  There was no meat on the bones, instead of a turkey leg, I got a chicken wing.  There was very little story development and even less character development.  We get a cliffs notes summarized background of maybe 5-6 characters, 3 of them being the main characters in a slipshod manner.  Rosie, the elephant, was in the story sparingly and I think she was in it more to justify the title than anything else.  Now I'm not saying she was only mentioned once or twice, but in all honesty I think she was mentioned more as an outlet for August's anger and to build some schmaltzy sympathy from the reader.  The chapters go by quick and for good reason, to keep the reader from realizing there is no substance to what they are reading.  Not only did the characters have a summarized history, but the entire book felt summarized.  It felt like Gruen threw the book together in one night.  Here I'll give you the entire book; Jacob, a Pollock, is studying at Cornell to become a vet, like his father; his parents die, he loses home to bank; he goes back to school only to run out of his final exams and jump a train, a circus train; gets a job; falls in love with his boss's (August, who is abusive, shocker) wife, Marlena; she falls for him, trouble ensues, bad guy dies, couple goes off and lives happy, happy.  We're being told all this through flashbacks from 90 something year old Jacob, ala The Green Mile.  He's in a living assisted facility,his wife is dead, he's unhappy, he's losing his mind, he's not losing his mind, his kids, grand-kids don't see him enough, and so on.  I did enjoy the supporting characters even though they were there just for show and to later try and draw on our heart strings. Gruen creates a scenario where Jacob and August throw down, both are severely beaten and Marlena ends up with a black eye.  Jacob can't see out of one eye, can't focus and gets dizzy from just opening his one eye, despite that he climbs to the top of a moving  train, jumps cars (all with a knife clenched in his teeth) to get to Augusts' car and kill him.  What sense does that make?  Even if we are to believe Jacob did all these train acrobatics all banged up and in the middle of the night mind you, who wouldn't suspect him to be the killer?  They just had a knock out fight and there were rumors that Jacob and Marlena were having an affair (which they hadn't yet, only kissed and exchanged adolescent glances).  The only suspects would be Marlena or himself.  And when he gets there he doesn't even kill August!  He leaves the knife on the pillow to scare him.  Which no reference is even made to the knife nor the effect it had on August anywhere after that scene.  No, the only reason for this scene was so that Gruen could have Jacob's 2 buddies, Camel & Kinko(Walter) thrown from the train and create some predictable tug your heart strings sympathy moment from the reader, which it did not, at least not for me.  It actually just annoyed me.
It wasn't all bad.  There were some really funny lines and ultimately was captivating enough to keep me reading it.  It was cool to read about circus life back in it's heyday and as I said I did like the supporting characters. There was so much potential with this story and it's a shame it wasn't fleshed out more.
I won't categorize it in Fluff Lit, but I will put it in Fast Food Lit.  It's quick, serves its purpose, but in the end just isn't satisfying. I'd give it *** (out 5*'s), b/c popularity of the book deems it should be, but for me it's more like ** maybe **1/2.
As always I encourage everyone to read it themselves and form their own opinion, this is just what I thought and books, as all art forms, are subjective. Happy reading!


  1. Nice review, I know what you mean about the train/knife scene. I was like whhaaaat? I liked it overall but then again, I did fall for the heart strings bit, what can I say? I'm a sucka!

  2. Lol Mimi! You ain't no sucka, that's what Gruen aimed for and you just fell into the prose.
    I did like it, I know it's not a flattering review, but I did like it, just wasn't in love with it. Not as impressed as I thought I was going to be. But I def wouldn't throw into Fluff category, Fast Food category, but not fluff. :)
    I loved the old photos though, that was cool.
    Have you read The Devil in the White City? If not, you must. It's non-fiction, but it reads like fiction. Excellent, excellent book.

  3. No I haven't but I'll add it to my ever growing list :)

  4. Oh def add it and let me know what you think when you get the chance to read it. I think you'll like it though.
    I know my to-read list keeps growing and growing!