Riding Lessons author stables her horses in favor of a larger steed
At last, an author has the courage to write about the elephant in the room. No, seriously—there’s an elephant in the room. Or rather in the dressing tent of traveling circus performers Marlena and August Rosenbluth. The elephant’s name is Rosie and she only understands Polish, so it’s a good thing that dropout veterinary student Jacob Jankowski joins the circus. Good for the elephant, anyway; not so good for the fierce little love triangle that fast develops among her human handlers.
Actually, Rosie doesn’t make her debut until nearly halfway through this Great Depression novel, which brings us to the other elephant in the room: August is bipolar and, during his rages, prone to beat whatever beast or human gets in his way.
Water for Elephants is told through the recollections of Jacob, now in his 90s and a cantankerous nursing-home resident. The novel sometimes suffers from the narrator’s growly, pedantic need to educate all the fools who don’t understand how a real circus works—a transparent excuse for Gruen to share her favorite research gems. But on the whole, this tragedy of Polish pachyderms and psycho circus performers is an accomplished addition to Gruen’s bookshelf menagerie.