Heard about this because it was one of those books that is always on front shelves at Bongs & Noodles.
I know it is contradictory to say that I enjoyed this and then file it as an unfavorite, but it’s true. I enjoyed it in that I carried on reading it all the way to the end, so I guess something about it must have been interesting and absorbingish. Basically, the story is narrated by an old man who is slipping in and out of the present into his past, when he worked as a circus vet in the Depression. (I don’t like the Depression. I know that everybody didn’t like the Depression, but I just want to go on record as disliking it.) There is an elephant and an crabby midget and a pretty girl and some crazy people. I love circuses (in theory – I have never actually been to one). I really wanted to like this book. I really really did. I’m not just saying that.
It’s just – I didn’t give a shit what happened to anyone. The guy’s two best friends get killed by the crazy circus people, and I just didn’t care at all. I didn’t care if the elephant got killed; I didn’t care if the chick stayed with her crazy-ass husband or ran off with the narrator; I didn’t care about anything that happened to anyone, ever. And you know, that isn’t really the mark of a great novel.
The concept was interesting, a Depression-era train circus and its wild and wacky adventures, but it wasn’t worked out at all well. The transitions between the bits with the old guy in the nursing home and the bits of his past that he remembers are really, really not smooth (mostly), which has led me to believe I can (and will!) do better with such a frame. There was a very unfortunate combination in this bookydook of excitable prose and unbelievable relationships (I don’t know if that’s the right adjective, but my point is that there was nothing the least bit realistic or moving about these relationships), which gave the novel a feeling of fantasy rather than history. In a way that might be a good thing, but because it was a historical novel, it made the history bits sound made-up, and everyone worked together in a painful congruence to make this book seem childish and very unfinished. Which is a shame, because I think there is a fascinating book in there somewhere, and I have no doubt that the truth about Depression-era circuses is most riveting.
Oh how I hated this book. Because of the premise, a depression-era traveling circus, it should have been brilliant. It should have been full of all kinds of fantastical wonder, but it just wasn’t. Also, all the hype. People LOVE this book. I was so let down. It should have been written as non-fiction, because the parts that she researched (the moonshine paralysis, murdering elephants, etc) were great tidbits… but her fiction, it was lacking something fierce, with terrible characters and stupid love story.
That said, have you read GEEK LOVE? It’s also a circus novel, but absolutely brilliant.
Geek Love? I’ve never even heard of it! But I’ll have to check it out next time I’m at the library — nice to know I’m not alone in being unimpressed by Water for Elephants. 🙂
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