28 January 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Warning: This post contains spoilers.

My library's book club met this week to discuss Water For Elephants. General consensus was that it was a good book. We all liked it.

Okay, down to the nitty-gritty. In the prologue we all three believed that Marlena had killed August, and so were surprised upon learning it was actually Rosie. I think the bit that made the surprise so great for me was that the murder is described as having definite intention. The unnamed murderer in the prologue is well aware of what she is doing and that this particular action will result in August's death and that's the result she's looking for. This level of understanding of one's action is something I ascribe to people, not animals, so that's why I believed it to be Marlena. I mean animals kill in anger, like a dog that's been aggravated and attacks the one who's hurt it. There's no thought involved, it's just pure instinct. For this reason, it seemed unlikely that the elephant was the killer in the prologue. Then when I got to the author's note at the end and she described other instances of elephants killing people, I thought that maybe, just maybe, elephants can murder not just kill. And as one of the ladies in my book club pointed out: an elephant never forgets.

One of the study questions I found for the club discussion was comparing Jacob in the book to the Biblical Jacob. I didn't bring it up in discussion because we were running late and I hadn't had lunch yet, and because I don't really remember the Biblical Jacob very well. I remember only bits of his story: That he got super drunk one night and his daughters slept with him (for reasons I don't remember except that they made no sense). This is mimicked in the book with Jacob's night with Barbara and Nell, though thankfully the incest is left out of it. The only other similarity I can draw is how both Jacobs are forgotten or ignored by their children once reaching old age. Again, more similarities can probably be drawn, but I haven't read that bit of the Bible for some time, so I'm not too familiar with it anymore.

Gruen's research is clearly evident throughout the book. She totally and very believably recreated the Depression-era circus in terms of what happened on the train circus and the specialized vocabulary of  the circus. The only word I really knew going into it was "rube." This book introduced me to a new world. I fully understand how Gruen got so caught up in the circus stories that she had to keep researching and drop her other book idea to write about this.

All of us in the book club felt that the ending was apt: Jacob's story came full circle. It's a lucky break, and he had many of those once the Benzini circus fell apart, but it's satisfying nonetheless. A good book and I would totally recommend it to anyone.

No comments: