When this book first came out, I resisted. The premise just didn’t seem that interesting to me. But then the book stuck around. It continued to be prominently displayed on bookstore shelves and the next then I knew, it was a movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. And so I caved. Although an entertaining read, I didn’t find Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen to be that engaging. The characters were good, but not great and the story drew me in but didn’t keep my attention. It was a quick read, however, great for a lazy memorial day weekend.
The story focuses on the life of Jacob Jankowski, a Cornell veterinary student who, a short period before his final exams, finds himself without a family and without a home. In a state of shock, he hops on a train, and begins his life as a member of the circus. His veterinary credentials, even though he never completed school, give him a foot in the door as an animal character. The book gives us a glimpse into the circus life – the slang, the battle between performers and the working men, and the way the circus business works.
In that sense it was interesting – seeing life in the circus, behind the curtains. It’s the same reason I liked the play “Noises Off”. But beyond that, I didn’t find the romance to be that believable. Sure, I feel bad for Marlena and her short-tempered, vicious husband, but beyond that, the main characters didn’t pull me in. Walter, however. Walter I liked. Walter is a circus performer, a midget, whose best friend is his faithful companion Queenie, a dog. In a lot of ways, Walter is one of the most complex characters in the book – Ms. Gruen peels away his harsh exterior to show a softie underneath. All in all, I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, if using a star system.