rating: 4 of 5 stars
Upon the suggestions of many of my fellow book lovers, this book has been on my TBR list (to be read) for quite some time. I’m not sure what prevented me from picking it up before; perhaps it was the circus theme which instinctively led me to think of clowns. (Yes, having a fear of clowns as an adult is completely irrational, but there are much worse things to be afraid of and besides, it hasn’t inhibited my lifestyle so far.) Luckily for me, there are no clown subplots in this story. But I digress - onto the story.
The story is told from the point of view of Jacob at ages 23 and 90 (or 93). Present day Jacob is a resident in a nursing home who reminisces on the time he joined the circus. Young Jacob is an Ivy League veterinary student who leaves college abruptly during his final exams following a tragic accident that leaves him an orphan. Wandering aimlessly, homeless and without money, family or a place to go, he jumps onto a train and is unexpectedly met by circus workers. Luckily, an older worker befriends him and allows him to work alongside him for the day in hopes that he can secure a job with the circus. During his first day at the job he sees a horse trainer that reminds him of his college girlfriend. Later, older worker brings Paul to meet the circus owner, Uncle Al.
During the “interview” Al asks Jacob if he’s ever seen a circus, and if he’s seen their show, the Benzini Brothers. Prompted by his friend to the answer-Al-wants-to-hear, Jacob lies and says he’s seen Ringling Brothers but they were nothing compared to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. This does not interest Al, and just about the time Al is ready to dismiss Jacob, he finds out Jacob is a last year veterinary student. This intrigues Al, because Ringling Brothers has a vet on staff, and more than anything else in the world, Al wants to be Ringling Brothers. Jacob is brought on with the direction that he can stay as long as he keeps the sick horse alive.
The horse has an incurable ailment and ends up dying. Jacob ends up staying on, befriending both the “elite” group of performers and the respect of the working staff. Love begins, first for the animals, and then for the wife of the ill-tempered masterofanimals. August and Al shows their evil natures, both toward people and animals. Marlena, the beautiful horse trainer, grows deeply attached to Jacob. Relationships grow and become more complicated, both in the present day and as Jacob reminisces about the past. Filled with suspense, the end of the book takes a somewhat predictable turn which is no less gratifying even though it was expected.
Why you should read this book
I enjoy stories with a lot of character development and can empathize with the protagonist. A circus vet is an unlikely hero, but not in the least unlikeable. The book has something for almost everyone – empathetic characters, vivid scenery, a sprinkling of romance and plenty of suspense. Another surprising plot device is the animals themselves, in particular one very charismatic elephant.
Totally off topic to a book review but interesting anyway
This bestselling novel was written in a month! NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is to writers what a marathon is to runners. Participants in NaNoWriMo pledge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. It's sometimes incomplete, and rarely published so it's a real jem to find a writing project written with such fervor that turned into a bestseller. Also, it's also one of my goals to participate in NaNoWriMo this year after a year of reading a book a week.
Water for elephants in 6 words or less
Not quite Ringling, love without clowns.
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