Excerpt from Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Water for Elephants

A Novel

By Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: May 2006,
    335 pages.
    Paperback: May 2007,
    368 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


He glares at me, his jaw moving back and forth like a cow chewing cud. Incredible. He's actually eating the stuff.

The old ladies chatter like schoolgirls, blissfully unaware.

"They're here until Sunday," says Doris. "Billy stopped to find out."

"Yes, two shows on Saturday and one on Sunday. Randall and his girls are taking me tomorrow," says Norma. She turns to me. "Jacob, will you be going?"

I open my mouth to answer, but before I can Doris blurts out, "And did you see those horses? My word, they're pretty. We had horses when I was a girl. Oh, how I loved to ride." She looks into the distance, and for a split second I can see how lovely she was as a young woman.

"Do you remember when the circus traveled by train?" says Hazel. "The posters would appear a few days ahead—they'd cover every surface in town! You couldn't see a brick in between!"

"Golly, yes. I certainly do," Norma says. "They put posters on the side of our barn one year. The men told Father they used a special glue that would dissolve two days after the show, but darned if our barn wasn't still plastered with them months later!" She chuckles, shaking her head. "Father was fit to be tied!"

"And then a few days later the train would pull in. Always at the crack of dawn."

"My father used to take us down to the tracks to watch them unload. Gosh, that was something to see. And then the parade! And the smell of peanuts roasting—"

"And Cracker Jack!"

"And candy apples, and ice cream, and lemonade!"

"And the sawdust! It would get in your nose!"

"I used to carry water for the elephants," says McGuinty.

I drop my fork and look up. He is positively dripping with self-satisfaction,

just waiting for the girls to fawn over him.

"You did not," I say.

There is a beat of silence.

"I beg your pardon?" he says.

"You did not carry water for the elephants."

"Yes, I most certainly did."

"No you didn't."

"Are you calling me a liar?" he says slowly.

"If you say you carried water for elephants, I am."

The girls stare at me with open mouths. My heart's pounding. I know I shouldn't do this, but somehow I can't help myself.

"How dare you!" McGuinty braces his knobby hands on the edge of the table. Stringy tendons appear in his forearms.

"Listen pal," I say. "For decades I've heard old coots like you talk about carrying water for elephants and I'm telling you now, it never happened."

"Old coot? Old coot?" McGuinty pushes himself upright, sending his wheelchair flying backward. He points a gnarled finger at me and then drops as though felled by dynamite. He vanishes beneath the edge of the table, his eyes perplexed, his mouth still open.

"Nurse! Oh, Nurse!" cry the old ladies.

There's the familiar patter of crepe-soled shoes and moments later two nurses haul McGuinty up by the arms. He grumbles, making feeble attempts to shake them off.

A third nurse, a pneumatic black girl in pale pink, stands at the end of the table with her hands on her hips. "What on earth is going on?" she asks.

"That old S-O-B called me a liar, that's what," says McGuinty, safely restored to his chair. He straightens his shirt, lifts his grizzled chin, and crosses his arms in front of him. "And an old coot."

"Oh, I'm sure that's not what Mr. Jankowski meant," the girl in pink says.

"It most certainly is," I say. "And he is, too. Pffffft. Carried water for the elephants indeed. Do you have any idea how much an elephant drinks?"

From Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. © 2006 by Sara Gruen. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Jake

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Take This Man
    Take This Man
    by Brando Skyhorse
    "A chorus of six men calling me Son might sound ludicrous to you, but to me it's the sound of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  133Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.