by Keith Taylor
Do kids still dream about running away to join the circus? Is that still an option, at least in imagination? Forty years ago it still seemed to be one of my choices. The circus was going to be a real one, too, with clowns and freaks and elephants, not some parking-lot carnival with squeaky Ferris wheels. But even then it must have existed only in my imagination. The great day of the train circuses the ones that packed up and moved from town to town, coming and going like some glorious half-
remembered dream was already long gone.
Sara Gruen has found a way to make the fantasy almost real. Her new novel, Water for Elephants, is a loving, ambitious, playful re-creation of an early-1930s whistle-stop circus. It certainly has its share of intrigue, of love and death and terror, of the tragic and the seedy, but mostly it is a hymn of celebration to a vanished way of life. For as much as I know, she may have a few details wrong, but I certainly don't care. She has done her research, and she has created a world I've only fantasized about. Although she tells a good story about interesting people that keeps her readers turning the pages, just about everything including plot and character can be sacrificed to the setting that has so captivated her imagination.
Her protagonist, Jacob Jankowski, is an almost-graduated student of veterinary medicine at Cornell when his life falls apart in 1931. His parents die, and he discovers that the family has no money. He staggers away from school without finishing his final exams. And dumb luck takes him to the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth. There he finds a brilliant dwarf clown who reads Shakespeare and under-the-counter dime-store pornography, an old roustabout who has permanently damaged himself drinking illegal alcohol, a venal circus owner willing to break any law to help him equal
Arts and Entertainment reviews and news.>> Blogs