Saturday, June 4, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Two things struck me about Water for Elephants. The first is the entertainingly colloquial style the book is written in. One of my favorites in the beginning of the first chapter...
I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One of the other.

When you're five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen. It's a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm - you start confidently, but then you stop. you were going to say thirty-three, but you're not. you're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it's decades before you admit it.
I'm not much older than thirty and I can certainly relate...unfortunatly.

The other thing that struck me was the explicit sexual crudeness of parts of the story. I can't put an example on here without changing the adult contact settings, but I will say that she could do with a lesson from Jim Thompson on how less can be more. I'll use the example someone once pointed out to me from The Killer Inside Me
"You're not going anywhere, baby," I said, and I hit her again.

And at last she got it.

She jumped up and I jumped with her. I whirled her around gave her a quick one-two, and she shot backwards across the room and bounced and slumped against the wall. She staggered to her feet, weaving, mumbling, and half-fell toward me. I let her have it again.

I backed her against the wall, slugging and it was like pounding a pumpkin. Hard, then everything giving away at once.
That little bit says a lot, and gives you a good enough general picture to get the point across, we didn't need the details.

Regardless however, I admit, I was regaled by the story told by Jacob Jankowski about his life, and how he came to be a veterinarian in a traveling circus. In the early part of the Great Depression, as he was finishing his last year of veterinarian school, Jacob's parents were suddenly killed leaving him to fend for himself without a penny to his name. In a paroxysm of anger and sadness he runs. Just runs. Eventually he stumbles on a train and, on impulse, jumps on not realizing how drastically his life was about to change. Before he knows what has happened, he's put in charge of the animals, falling in love with the wife of a deranged animal trainer and figuring out the puzzle to training the seemingly untrainable elephant that is meant to either save or break the show, and in the end, possibly help him survive.

Overall, I'm not yet sure if it is a story I would recommend, I think I would given a disclaimer, as I did like the author's overall style, but if you are reading the book because you enjoyed the movie, just beware of the "extra content".


seana said...

This was a big, big book even before the movie, and we've sold many copies. I get the sense that a lot of people are drawn in by the story, but that the writing isn't that hot.

I think if I was trying to write a best selling novel, I would put either 'elephant' or 'bee' in the title. Or possibly both.

Glenna said...

Or you could combine them like Hollywood does couples. Elephee? Beephant? .....or not.

Really though, putting elephant or bee in the title is better than the less attractive way of doing it...dying, which seemed to have worked well for Steig Larsson.

Honestly, I can't say the book was really written as a literary critique might go, but I enjoyed the style of it.

seana said...

Yeah, dying would seem to be pretty much a last resort.