"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

I watched this movie in Romania a few years ago. It was a pretty special experience. And it was a really fantastic movie. You can imagine my excitement, then, at finding this book for .50 cents at a thrift store in California. Never mind that I had a whole carry-on already full of books and shoes (as every good carry-on bag faithfully stewards) that I had to haul across the States – this was worth the added weight. Right?

Was It As Good As The Movie?

Well – it was good. From a literary perspective, it was a really, really good book. Sara Gruen is a fantastic writer and I have to say, she held my attention through all of the robust descriptions of high-energy circus action and the dark dramas of the circus world.

Gruen wrote this book during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an annual event in which people spend the entire month of November writing a novel from start to finish. Given that most authors spend years on a book… that’s a pretty impressive feat.

There’s this one line that stuck out to me that I haven’t forgotten: “Uncle Al strides towards us in red waistcoat and top hat, his plaid-swaddled legs swallowing the ground.” His plaid-swaddled legs swallowing the ground. I mean… come on. What imagery! Does that not just conjure up the most wonderfuly accurate image of this character in your mind? (Uncle Al is a terrible human being, by the way.)

So, the writing is fab, the story is captivating. You can totally sense the hesitation in my voice and are probably starting to wonder when this big old BUT is going to butt in, though, I know. Let’s skip the summary this time, if that’s alright? (Google is a good friend, if you’re interested.)

Why I Hesitate

I want to recommend this book so bad, because it was just so good. But there are a couple of scenes that entirely compromise the value of this book for me. You can guess what they are.

As I said, Gruen’s got a gift for illustrating scenes in great, articulate detail. Painting an image with words is really an art to be admired and appreciated. Because her writing really draws you in, it’s emotionally manipulative – evidence of quality writing.

When the manipulative scenes in question, however, are of sex and strippers, then we’ve got a problem. I didn’t appreciate the interruption of the story with explicit and graphic scenes I was neither expecting nor was partial to, and quite honestly did not think they were necessary for the story.

Why I Wouldn’t Recommend It

Frankly, I don’t believe our society needs anything else to stimulate our sexuality. We were never supposed to enjoy sexual experiences alone in the form of a book, movie, or computer screen. We were meant to enjoy them with another person – right? Hence the complementary mechanisms of our male and female reproductive systems, yeah? So, anything that contributes to this individualistic, selfish, consumeristic view of sexuality will always get a no-thank-you from me.

It might seem counter-intuitive to tell you “THIS WAS SUCH A GOOD BOOK but don’t read it because of the porno scenes” – that kind of a warning is just begging certain people to read it. But, truthfully, those kinds of people will probably engage in this stuff without the help of this blog post. I thought it’d only be fair to warn those who, like me, would like to know about inappropriate content before reading certain scenes that they can’t ever really un-read.

I’m an advocate for a rating system on books, as I once journaled about. Why is this not a thing? Genuinely curious.

Anyway, I will hardly ever say this. But if you’re so inclined, watch the movie instead of reading this book. The quality of any book’s writing, for me, will never justify or excuse the contamination of its content.


5 thoughts on “"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

  1. Jamie Lynne says:

    This reminds me of Ken Follett. Have you read anything of his? I thought his Pillars of the Earth saga was a phenomenal story, but some things were just too descriptive and didn't really add to the story. I think I'll stick to the movie with this one! Thanks for the review!


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