Tag Archives: fiction

Life as a Circus Veterinarian

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.

Re-examining the Bible with Philip Pullman

As part of The Myth series, Philip Pullman retells the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with a twist in his novel “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.” His big twist? Instead of there being one baby boy born in the manger that fateful day, Mr. Pullman proposes that there are 2 – one strong, healthy boy named Jesus and another weaker one named Christ.  This twist completely changes the story, obviously, turning this biblical story on its head.

In my opinion, this is a particularly interesting re-telling.  Mr. Pullman paints Jesus as a man who preaches his beliefs not to create a religion but simply to spread the word.  In fact, he expressly does not want to create a religion because of all the negative things religion can bring, for example, war.  This is also why he prefers not to perform miracles and provide proof that he is the son of God.

Christ, however, approaches things differently.  He believes that miracles are a great way to “market” Jesus’ word, and based on the encouragement of an “angel” starts to keep track of Jesus’ accomplishments and preachings, retelling history as his view of history – truth with a a bit of embellishment.

As an atheist, Mr. Pullman pokes holes in many of the common beliefs surrounding the Christian faith – for example the resurrection and the “miracle” of one loaf feeding an entire city. He also writes the entire story in a similar voice and style as the Bible, lending his novel some of the solemness of the Bible itself.

Would I recommend it? I’m not sure.  I think the story is interesting, but obviously the writing style, although I understand why he chose it, makes the novel a bit of a dry read.  The book is, however, short.   If you have some spare time, and are interested in religion (in more of a theoretical literary sense versus in a faith-based sense) I find his retelling to be fairly interesting.

Life in a 11′ x 11′ Room

Wow.  Room was an amazing read and the author’s style and approach to the story is incredibly interesting and provocative.  The novel takes place through the eyes of 5-year old Jack, a boy who’s never known a world outside of Room, a 11′ x 11′ space.  When I first started reading, I was a bit thrown off by the style.  I wasn’t really sure what was going on.  But soon I realized that the book would lose its power if not told through the eyes of a child.

This novel took me through an emotional roller coaster ride.  The book begins with Jack happily talking about all the fun stuff he does in Room.  Told through the eyes of a child, the 11′ x 11′ room take a life of his own, with meals, physical education, reading, and playing – a pretty normal, happy childhood.  Even though it struck me that something was weird, especially since the boy never talked about anything outside the room, it didn’t really click.  At one point, I was under the delusion that Jack was actually a robot who was “put to sleep” every night in the wardrobe (I know, I’ve read too many science fiction stories). But as the story continues, details continue to leak out that seem a bit out of place.  The strict bedtime, the fact that nothing leaves or enters the room except Old Nick, the fact that Old Nick comes every night around 9 pm and the bed creaks and creaks and creaks.   It’s easy to overlook these details though, because when they’re told through the eyes of a young child, it’s all suffused with a sense of innocence.  You realize something’s weird, but Jack seems so happy, seems like a normal 5 year old boy with an active imagination, like so many other 5 year old boys.

When the details began to unravel, there is nothing but horror.  You realize how much a child who grows up completely cut off from the world doesn’t know – for example, that the TV world isn’t just in the TV – that it’s images of “the outside”.   You realize the horrible situation Jack’s mother is in, and how strong she is to keep it together for so many years.  Ms. Donoghue does a great job of really helping the reader learn about Jack, building a believable character as he encounters experiences that are everyday to us, but obviously very new to a child who has never seen the outside of a Room.

I highly recommend this book.  It will really take you on an emotional journey as only a book written from the point of view of a 5 year old child can.  By showing the world through a 5 year old’s eyes, it turns a horrible, emotionally traumatic situation into something that is at least palatable, although still only barely so.  And in this way, she really brings to light the trauma that results from an abduction. and the love of a mother, pushed to her limits but keeping it together for the sake of her child.