Monday, March 16, 2009

Water for Elephants By: Lezah Williamson

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A friend of mine loaned me Water for Elephants by former Vancouverite Sara Gruen. It's a love story filled with animals - what could be better, I ask you?

Set in the Great Depression (I'm a sucker for Depression-era stories), Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, a young man who, a week before he sits his final exams in Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, has the rug pulled out from under him. His life, both as he knew it and as he envisioned it, is gone; in a fit of despair, he runs off and jumps the first train out of town.

Jacob has leapt, unknowingly, into the lion's den. He finds himself hooked up with a second rate circus that criss-crosses the country, looking as much for the next score as for other failed circus outfits to cannibalize. The cast of this ragtag crew is probably more entertaining than the pathetic illusions their circus act offers: Al, the boss, envies Ringling Bros. to the point of obsession; Marlena is the beautiful wife of the alternatively abusive and charming August; Rosie is an elephant who can only understand Polish; Blackie, is a brute whose sole purpose seems to be 'redlighting' employees who have outlived their usefulness; Kinko is a dwarf who puts up walls around him so high that no one can get in; and Camel is an old drunk who paves the way for Jacob.

The story is told from the perspective of Jacob as an old man. Either 90 or 93 years old (what does it matter when you're that age?), he recalls the story while suffering the indignities of old age as they play out in his nursing home. The story explores the bizarre subculture of the circus world, and throughout the book, black and white photos illustrating aspects of the circus world evoke the difficult life those people led.

Water for Elephants was on the NYT Best Sellers list for over 55 weeks. Fox 2000 has acquired the movie rights to the novel, and is said to be fast-tracking the project. Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) has signed on as director.

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