Sunday, July 3, 2011

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was... well, amazing.  And entirely frustrating.

I saw the movie in mid-May with one of my best friends, and walked away knowing that it was one of the most spectacular films I had ever seen!  The characters were real and relatable, the filming was beautiful, and the darkest parts were so incredibly intense!  I can't wait to see it again (hurry up, redbox!), and I think it might actually wind up in my collection.

Therefore, when I saw the book in Target the other day, I couldn't resist picking it up.  It was a good price, it had Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon on the cover, and the movie was great, so the book's supposed to be better, right?

For once, I really have to say that the movie did some things better.  Let me say this--Sara Gruen is truly one of the best writers I've ever read.  The way she relates a person's opinion along with their train of thought is so well-done!  Her descriptions are detailed, but not too lengthy.  I love the way she brought in all of her research and the tiny details and anecdotes she picked up from what she learned of circuses from the time period.  I really admire the amount of research she had to do for this book.  For several nights, I felt like I could be falling asleep on a train circus.  She really drew me into the world of the story.

This story is set in the summer of 1931 aboard a train circus.  Jacob Jankowski, a Cornell-educated almost-veterinarian, jumps a train in the middle of the night and ends up being roped into working for The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  There he gains unlikely friends, becomes very attached to an elephant, and is helplessly drawn to his boss's wife, Marlena.

At first I was frustrated with the way the book was structured--an old man recalling the summer of 1931 almost absent-mindedly.  By the end of it, though, I really liked it.  It wouldn't have transferred well to the big screen, though, which is why I guess they used the end of the book for the whole movie.  Clever and effective.  I like both ways.

My only qualm with her book is the amount of sex it has in it.  I am very grateful that the movie was rated PG-13, because I thoroughly enjoyed it.  While the book was also great, I was annoyed by frequent side-tracks from the actual plot to mention something sex-related.  None of it was at all necessary.  Yes, there is one scene in the book that is somewhat important to the plot--the night Jacob and Marlena actually have the affair--but there is a way to write that gracefully, and Sara Gruen definitely did not.

Therefore, I have a dilemma.  It was a wonderful book, but I honestly can't--with a good consious, at least--recommend it to anyone.  Too many f-bombs, too much nudity, too much.... just too much.  It really makes me sad.  I have half a mind to take a black marker to those unnecessary bits.  Then I could hand it to all of my friends and squeal, "READ IT!  It's soooo good!" like I so desperately want to do.

Everyone should see the movie, however.  Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon have great chemistry, and it's pretty clean.  Not a whole lot of cussing (though I can't blame him for letting one slip when he almost lost his arm to a lion).


  1. Great review. I love the way you write. The movie sounds good, and I think I will have to rent this one to see it. You are so awesome and enthusiastic, and I love reading what you have to say. Read on. I need to get back into some good books. Have you read any of Brian Jacques' Redwall series? I have read Redwall with Brad and we thoroughly enjoyed it!

  2. I heard that the book was sketchy, so I didn't read it. I tried going through a book and marking out all the swearing and bad stuff, but I was starting to get up to 5 blacked out parts per page, so I just quit reading. It's so sad when that happens. None of it was necessary.