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Cover of "Water for Elephants: A Novel"

Cover of Water for Elephants: A Novel

I have no interest in the circus.  Elephants, I dig, because they are immense in bulk and yet sweet in disposition, and I’m into that kind of contradiction.  But if you said, here’s a book about elephants, I’d likely raise an eyebrow at you and silently turn away.  Sans book.

So why did I read Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants?  More importantly, why did I stay up way past my bedtime last night glued to the last few chapters? 

Answer:  Because it was good.  It was just damn good.

Gruen opens the novel violently, with a scene that you anticipate throughout the read.  And – after you get to know the characters – you yearn for that part to come.  And when it does, it is surprising and awesome and better than you imagined it would be. 

Freaking brill.

The main character, Jacob, flees his ivy league college in a fight or flight response to a tragedy in his life.  He hops on a train car that happens to be chock full of circus men en route to their next destination.  And Jacob happens to be a vet.  Sort of.   The Depression-era circus is just what you would expect it to be – dark, dangerous, and delightful for the kiddos.   

Another thing I found amazing about Water for Elephants was the imagery.  Gruen has a way of describing a scene that really sucks the reader into it.  You are able to see what the main character experiences.  You are drawn into his world and you really feel present in it.  You can taste the lemonade.  You can hear the men pitching the big top tent.  It’s marvelous. 

If you choose to read this book, please please please also read the author’s note at the end.  Very interesting stuff about Thomas Edison killing an elephant in an electric chair.  A very big one.  Oh, and if you can stand it, Edison recorded this process, which you can see on youtube.  I’m not linking to it.  Cause I could not even think about watching it.  Poor elephant.  All he did was kill his trainer.  Who probably beat him anyway.  I’m sure he was just retaliating.  If you’re into that, you can Google it.

Personal note:  It’s interesting that I read this book right at this moment, because recently I’ve been struggling with imagery in my own writing.  I received a reject a few weeks ago for a piece I had submitted to a literary mag.  The very polite response indicated that I was so close to being done, but I was having trouble pulling the reader in to the scene.  The editor said he felt like he was pressed up against the story, but unable to penetrate it. 

Great comments, I thought.  And true, as well.  Now I just have to figure out how to penetrate.

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