Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

GoodreadsWater for Elephants

Summary:  After his parents’ sudden deaths, a young college student runs away and finds himself with a circus.  Although he is without a degree, he is accepted as the circus’s veterinarian and begins to develop a friendship with the show animals—and a romance with one of the performers who works with them.

ReviewWater for Elephants is an entertaining read that alternates between two points of views—Jacob’s present, where he is an old man in an assisted living community, and his past, where he is a young man beginning to work for the circus.  The past is mostly just a good story about what happens behind the scenes of such a show.  Jacob does not see many of the actual performances, and so neither do the readers.  Instead, they are shown the inner workings—the strained relationships between the performers and the workers, the boss’s unethical business practices, the ways in which the circus twists words to attract a crowd.  It is interesting, and just a little gritty.

The relationship that develops between Jacob and Marlena, the real focus of the story, is unfortunately not that captivating.  In fact, it is unclear why Jacob is attracted to her at all, beyond the fact he finds her pretty and they both like animals.  Marlena’s thoughts are even less evident, since the book is not from her point of view.  It is possible she would like anyone who, well, is not her slightly scary and abusive husband.  (Also, I personally find it hard to become invested in adulterous relationships, no matter how the husband or wife being cheated on is portrayed.)

The present is less of a good story than the circus part, though Jacob does make some rather humorous statements.  After all, his complaint is that he is essentially stuck in his home doing nothing when he does not feel old at all.  Not much is going on except a few conversations between him and the nurses.  However, these scenes do present the most philosophical statements of the book—questioning what it means to be old, to have a purpose, and so forth.

Water for Elephants is a solid read, not spectacular, but good.  In its favor, it features an elephant, which I feel is just as much of a draw in a book as it is in a circus.  It also has a surprisingly nearly perfect ending.

Published: 2007

2 thoughts on “Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

  1. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase says:

    I read this last year for my moms club book club, and I enjoyed it but, like you, didn’t love it. And I feel the same about adulterous relationships–I’m angry with the characters for cheating, so it’s hard for me to be happy with their new relationship, no matter how perfect they are for each other. Great review!


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