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What readers think of Water for Elephants, plus links to write your own review.

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants

A Novel

by Sara Gruen
  • Critics' Opinion:
  • Readers' Opinion:
  • First Published:
  • May 26, 2006
  • Paperback:
  • May 2007
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There are currently 54 reader reviews for Water for Elephants
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Water for Elephants
I just recently joined a book club at the library and this was the first book that I read. I had wanted to read Water for Elephants for quite a while and was glad I was making the time to. To be honest, I don't think this book lived up to all the hype. It was a cute story but I never felt any character-reader relationship with anyone in the circus. I had mixed feelings about Jacob because even though he was a sweet kid and I liked him the best out of all the characters in the novel, he also committed adultery with another man's wife and sat back and watched as both August and Uncle Al treated the animals and performers like crap. As I said before I really didn't care for August and Uncle Al as they treated their "co-workers" horribly and just seemed like the stereo-typical evil-doers. Neither of their deaths came as a surprise to me nor did I really care as I had no emotional attachment towards either one. Marlena I found extremely annoying and it felt like all she ever did was lay on her back and cry, I know that's harsh but I think there is some truth to it. Sadly enough, Rosie was the only one I felt any attachment to or really cared about. One thing that did surprised me was who killed August, I read the prologue before reading the book and the author made me think that Marlena did it. I did enjoy this book and am glad I read it I just never felt connected to the characters or the storyline. Overall, the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth was not very spectacular.

I expected...
Half-way through the book I came up with my OWN ending and thought for sure that was where this book was headed. I was disappointed by the "easy" tv ending.

I was convinced that the old man was experiencing memories that were, in actuality, not his own, but those of the other old man who angered him by claiming that HE'D delivered water for the elephants.

THAT would have been a nice left turn. And would have made so much sense since the nurse herself explained to him that men often alter their memories to make them their own.

Even so, I enjoyed the book.

Perhaps I demand too much from an author. For me, there was no depth to the characters, no development. As one reviewer said, characters were "one dimensional". This book had potential, but I feel it failed to achieve anything but the disclosure fo the cruel treatment of people and animals by circus owners and their unbelievable greed. While the past and present flip-flop of Jacob's life could have been clever, I felt there was a complete disconnect between the two.

Hard to believe
My willing suspension of disbelief just kept slipping away while reading this book. I found the contemporary speech patterns of the main character to very annoying. In order for me to continue reading I had to move it out of 1932. Beyond that, I could not believe that a guy about to graduate from Cornell would walk out of the final and join a circus. Nope, not even dead parents would make anyone do that.

The melodrama at the end, beaten to a pulp and jumping from train to train while its moving - just too hard to believe. The only thing in the book that I could believe was that none of his children or grandchildren wanted to move the Jacob out of the nursing home and into their care.
Power Reviewer

Don't waste my time
I rarely put a book away without finishing it. I am supposed to lead a discussion on this book (I took over as facilitator of a book club after it was chosen), and I regret to have to bow out this time. Some of the passages are disgusting and not necessary in their entirety for the story or the reader. I gave it a try, but it's not worth my time or worth the sleazy images it left in my mind for a while after reading them.

The only reason I give it a 2 instead of 1 is because the author does show some skill in plot structure. Over all, skip this one.
Gil Deane

This is a great book?
This book was hyped as something special...what a disappointment...the writing struck me as coming from an average high school person...the dialogue was predictable and the flow of the action equally so. The only thing that I found interesting was the
depiction of circus life.

My conclusion is ...don't waste your time.

P.S. The vintage photographs were interesting.

Plot that plods like an elephant
Did you ever ride a cheap carnival roller coaster, where you hear each gear ka-chunking into place as the car laboriously starts out along the teeny-tiny track. That is an apt metaphor for this book, carny setting and all. I was not surprised in the least to read an interview with the author in the back, wherein she explains that she fell in love with the world of depression-era circuses and contrived to write the novel about it. Every plot element and character is just that: contrived. The writing is clear and simple--kind of USA Today level--but no one in this book thinks or talks like people from the 1930s. As it so happens, I am a veterinarian from Cornell. In the book, Jacob’s Polish veterinarian (?!) father is killed in an automobile accident, leaving him destitute because his parents mortgaged their house to pay for his "ivy league" education. Did Ms Gruen have to work so hard to have Jacob speak Polish and leave home? Even if his parents died destitute, there would be no reason why he could not take over the practice--it's not like the bank could take the local clients away. And the loss of family home... Cornell's college of veterinary medicine was and remains a land-grant school, i.e. a highly subsidized portion of the agricultural education system of New York. No one had to mortgage their house to attend Cornell's agricultural or veterinary college. And the veterinary detail is so incredibly lame! Horses don't founder for no reason, and there certainly was palliative care, which any horseman would know. And the scenes of gratuitous cruelty, such as slitting old horses’ throats to feed the cats-- surely Ms Gruen, author of Flying Changes, is an equestrian enough to realize any horse not dead yet would quickly overpower the inept horse butcher or run away. If you are bringing people in to a “lost world”, at least try to make the detail plausible!

Cheap Ending
What a cheap ending! All this drama and otherwise good writing wilts at the end. I enjoyed the story and stayed up past midnight to finish the book in one day. Then I felt totally cheated by the cheezy ending. Surely something better could have been devised?

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