The latest from Sara Gruen (Riding Lessons, Flying Changes) is the romantic period piece Water For Elephants. The novel is narrated by ninety or ninety-three year old (at that age its hard to remember) Jacob Jankowski. The story shifts between the present day, in which Jacob is lamenting his situation in a nursing home, and his 3-Ĺ month experience in the Benzini Brothers Circus in the Depression-era U.S.
At twenty-three, Jacob comes home to find that his parents have been killed in a car crash. He also finds that his parents fell behind on their mortgage, losing their home to the bank and leaving him essentially broke. So Jacob drops out of Cornell Veterinary School and uses his know-how to get a job with the Benzini Brothers Circus caring for their exotic animals. Along the way, Jacob also falls in love with Marlena, the wife of the sadistic circus boss. With this complicated relationship (throw in Rosie the elephant, as well) and the milieu of these colorful characters, Sara Gruen delivers a sordid tale of love, and love lost.
The novel is told in a first person narrative on both sides of the story, and it really feels like two novels in one. Both of the voice actors -- David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones Ė do an amazing job capturing the tone of the characters and the story. But itís the story itself that has problems. The structure is fairly smooth in its transitions as the older Jacob drifts into sleep and the younger Jacob takes over. But as the novel hums along, the middle of story gets a little repetitive. John Randolph Jones really delivers that cantankerous old man character perfectly; but simply gets tiresome after a while. The dialogue is also a tad overdone. If it were strictly third person, there would be no quibble. In first-person, though, it gives the character the flavor of a storyteller instead of a person. But these are just minor complaints. Overall, Water For Elephants is an enjoyably predictable tale that isnít as haunting as the cover might lead one to think.