Sara Gruen

This #1 NY Times Bestseller, Water for Elephants (“WFL”) is to be released in a film with Reese Witherspoon in 2011, and it offers us a timeless revelation of something that most of us could never fathom, the bygone era of traveling circus life, with grippingly real characters, at an astonishing depth from an author who is too young to know such vernacular much less in depth, and all the wretched animal smells, the poverty of that life, it’s inherent tragedies, sprinkled with humor, intrigue and life’s intensity. All of this is given to us from the senescent eyes of one “90 or 93”, and it leaps through his semi-dementia-blurred eyes to his eyes as they were decades past — the animated, vibrant mind of a large, strong and most admirable, but real, young man, Jacob/Jake Jankowski, a vetenarian, trained at Cornell University among America’s elite privileged classes, who fell into the depths of the morass of the Americana that one would expect circus-life to reflect.

Her novel is a much-heralded classic, as modern literature might define it, even if its prose are not of classical stature; the story that she weaves is captivating indeed. She presents this historical-fiction view of circus life primarily as dialogue, very believable at that and so worth the time to read it, but it wants for more descriptive passages and philosophy to feed our starved minds. Still, when she is of a mind to do so, she writes memorable lines, thus sprinkling her fascinating plot with tasteful, descriptive metaphors and similes which never impede the flow of the story line nor irritate the spellbound reader. The plot drifts dreamlike between The reality of old age and all it’s debilitating manifestations and the all-too vivid memories of circus life and the tragic and wonderful characters and griping events that then unfold.

Clearly, she has studied seniors and their halting routines in assisted living facilities, and she makes them all too real. With this, I have two problems. First, seniors’ lives are boring and, worse, awash in sadness. Second, for one of my age, they strike frighteningly close to home, increasing the appeal of some later self-extinction, a far preferable denouement than the gradual withering and atrophy that time assures. As such, I rapidly flipped through the chapters dwelling on Jacob’s painful, senescent existence. On balance, I horoughly enjoyed learning so much about circus life in America some 100 years ago and all of the characters and plots of WFL. Brava, Sara Guen. Ms. Guen is a Canadian, who now resides in America with her husband and sons.