“Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.”
[I actually only used the first part of the synopses, because with the full thing you’d have pretty much no actual book to read, it was all spoilers. Who does that?!]
I kinda feel like I was the only person in the world who hadn’t read this book [I also haven’t seen the movie – but really don’t care to watch it]. Any time it was on my desk at work or I was reading it in public and people were being nosy about what I was reading, everyone chimed in with a ‘Oh I’ve read that!’ This was suggested to read by quite a few of my friends on top of it, and I found it at a thrift store for hella cheap, so, why not?
Well what everyone seemed to neglect to tell me [also because I had no idea a movie was made about it] and that I didn’t know, is that it’s actually a love story. The book didn’t have a synopsis on the back, just info about how it was a best seller. Now, not to say that love stories are bad by any means, but sometimes they elicit giant eye rolls from me.
You start off with the main character, now a 93-year-old man in a nursing home, reminiscing about his youth where a tragic event sends him train hopping and joining a circus. A lot of shit goes down there, including he almost being murdered multiple times, and seeing the dark side of how circuses used to be in the 1940’s. People were treated more poorly than animals, but not to say the animals weren’t treated like shit. In comes where he meets the love interest, who is already married, but married to a mentally ill, and severely, severely abusive man.
On the positive sides, this author did a huge amount of research in pretty much everything about the story. There’s some over exaggeration of course, but circus professional have commented on the research and interviews they did with the author as their research for the book.
The research put into the circus aspect of it is amazing and it gives depth to the story that really pulls you in. The same with her research on the supposed [it’s technically never confirmed] mental illness of one of the main characters. Her descriptions of the husband’s reactions to things are on point for that illness. I’ve been around many with that specific disorder/disease/illness and it was a very well developed view on someone with that disease/disability.
Now with this, I felt like for quite a few areas in the book, the author put TOO much detail in their writings. An example of this is that I really did not need the details of how Walter, a little person, was jerking himself off at one point the author felt the need to describe the ordeal down to the texture and color of his dick. I’m not even kidding.
That being said, the book was surprisingly adult in some areas in the level on how graphic it was with sex. Some of it reached the ‘softcore’ levels that you’d find in a smutty harlequin romance or something. Not that it was bad [though there is a rape in the book -warning on that] or anything, but just wasn’t expecting it.
Also, the hero of the book is kinda not expected. But she’s awesome.
Overall, I give Water for Elephants 3/5 Trapeze Acts
“Either there’s been an accident or there’s roadwork, because a gaggle of old ladies is glued to the window at the end of the hall like children or jailbirds. They’re spidery and frail, their hair as fine as mist.”