Friday, December 31, 2010

Water for Elephants (Sara Guen)

Last review of the year! I read this book ages ago, during what I'm now referring to as the Black Fall (more on that in next weekend's 2010 Review Recap!). I let it fall to the wayside, but certain circumstances made me pick it back up again. Those circumstances are the newly released trailer of the film—in theaters April 22—and the terrible acting therein. I am here to assure you that it is not just the acting you'll need to watch out for.


Water for Elephants, which takes place during the Great Depression, tells the incredible story of one Jacob Jankowski, a young veterinary student who decides to run away after learning of the untimely deaths of both of his parents. For reasons that are not entirely clear—or at the VERY least not entirely justified—Jacob runs away during his final exam at Cornell. Just stands up and walks right out, a good ten minutes before he would finish his four-year degree and earn his diploma. Okay...

Jacob, not having anywhere or anyone to run to, begins to follow the railroad tracks on the outskirts of town, and eventually finds himself face to face with a real life, honest to goodness, GEN-U-WINE circus! And what luck! Even though the circus is on the brink of financial destitution, hasn't paid its workers in weeks, and has resorted to throwing some unfortunate bastards off the train in the middle of the night, they just happen to need a veterinarian! Isn't that just incredible, folks? The Lord truly works in mysterious ways. It's a mystery how this book ever got published.

Jacob ends up falling in love with Marlena, the circus' star performer and young wife of the mentally unstable head animal trainer, August. From what I can tell of the film via the trailer, whoever cast this movie got it just right: the useless and generically handsome young buck (Rob Pattinson) tries to steal the unnecessarily headstrong but ultimately personality-less trophy heroine (Reese Witherspoon) from the only character in the story with any real depth to him (Christoph Waltz).Oh, and there's an angry midget, and an elephant who won't listen to anyone.

Through a series of mostly predictable events, Jacob attempts to win over Marlena, while also attempting to teach tricks to Rosie, the elephant, so that they can all save the show together. Aww. August, who is completely demented and possibly bipolar, claims that he is Jacob's best friend, but also tries to kill the kid a couple times. Top it all off with a ruthless, money-hungry circus owner and you've got yourself a recipe for a #1 New York Times Bestseller!

Oh, and I forgot to mention: the entire thing is framed within the memories/dreams/possibly psychotic delusions of an old man in a nursing home who misses his wife and wants more than anything to be back with the circus again.

The one thing that got me through the abysmal plot was the painstaking detail that Sara Gruen goes into to make this world come alive. You can absolutely, 100% tell that she did her research, and did it well. I'm no expert on early 20th-century traveling circuses myself, but it seemed like Gruen got all of her facts straight. She should be proud of that particular accomplishment, and I'm sure she is, because in the book she often goes out of her way to explain some completely erroneous detail of circus life just to prove that she knows what she's talking about.

The writing itself is not terrible—Gruen is a competent individual who can string together interesting sentences—and the book is not without its compelling moments, but the predictability of the plot and the flatness of the two main characters seriously dampens any true enthusiasm that could be raised by the read. It's entertaining, it's readable, and there are a few times when it's even enjoyable, but on the whole this is a completely generic title.


Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen

There is nothing unique about this story. It's Big Fish meets The Notebook meets Every Novel You've Ever Read Where There Is A Young Man Who Feels Out Of Place In A New Situation But Somehow Finds The Most Perfect Girl On The Planet And They Fall In Love But She's Taken Oh No What Are They Gonna Do?

Nicholas Sparks' best book yet!

You will breeze through this book. Some of you might even enjoy it. I hope to God that none of you love it.


See you next year, Genoshans!


  1. Hi! Just wanted to say I couldn't agree with you more on Water for Elephants! I just started up a book blog myself and was discussing similar points you made here. Hoping maybe the screenplay might fill in some plot points lol

  2. I hope so too, though I doubt it will. it was definitely a highly cinematic book, but that was really one of it's problems. Maybe it'll translate well, but with that cast I'm not expecting too much.

  3. What, you couldn't get a real job so you pass the time trashing other people? That's really productive. Pathetic. You're not funny and you are extremely unoriginal. This review was not helpful in any way. If you don't like it, stop reading it and go write something on your own, since you seem to think you know better than everyone else. Whether you like this story or not, whoever wrote it made lots of readers happy and you are sitting at your computer picking at flaws.

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    First, let me thank you for building up the courage to attack me behind a veil of anonymity. That must have taken guts.

    Second, I do have a job, but I enjoy writing book reviews, as I think they are in fact helpful to people who are interested in spending money on books but don't want said money to be wasted. Also, if you look at my other reviews, most are fairly positive. It's not my fault the book sucks.

    Third, I did write something on my own. Feel free to purchase it and light it on fire, for all I care. I'm not asking—nor assuming—that everyone like what I write. I would think Ms. Gruen feels the same way.

    Fourth, the purpose of book reviews and literary criticism in general is to open up a dialogue. Thanks to the democratic reality of the internet that means that belligerent cowards like you even get to voice their opinions!

    If you liked the book, write your own damn review. Don't shit on mine. Honestly, whose the one "sitting at your computer picking at flaws"? Like you said, pathetic.

  5. i think that this review wasn't helpful at all. i have read the book and guess what i LOVED it!!! after reading the book i soon went and saw the movie. which in my opinion was amazing it met my expectations and more. i honestly think that you are picking on flaws and doubt that your own work is better. you shouldn't be picking on people's work, when you yourself haven't been published or are on the best sellers list. so if you have such a big problem with the book you shouldn't have wasted your time and reread it and wrote a review that is completely pointless and helps no one. Oh and so you know who i am Catie. i honestly just didn't want to waste my time signing up for reviews that aren't worth shit!

  6. im glad you liked the book, and if you dont like my reviews then dont read them. no one is forcing you to. i didnt reread the book. i read it once and it didnt do anything for me. i looked at the reasons why, and wrote about them. that's what a review is.

    there are people in the world who dont like books that i enjoy, and thats ok. they're welcome to their opinions. stop being a hypocrite and run your own review site if you think im doing such a terrible job. youre doing the exact same thing that you're claiming im doing.

    you shouldnt be picking on peoples reviews when you yourself haven't been writing book reviews for years or are a working, published writer (hint: i am).

    hi Catie. nice to meet you. im glad you enjoyed the movie.

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