Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Elephantine love story

on April 27, 2011

This post may contain Spoilers!

Water for Elephants was recommended to me several times.  Each time, I’d pick it up in the bookstore, look at the cover, and decide it wasn’t for me.  It looked like chick-lit.  I have a strong aversion to that genre of fiction.  I understand it can be entertaining to read about “women’s issues” to some. But the women’s issues that show up in chick-lit usually center around the “needs” of the modern women, i.e. a man, good shoes and enough money to survive in the urban jungle.  Pretty much in that order.  This is just not how I experience the world, and I never really felt the need to immerse myself in that kind of navel-gazing.  I navel-gaze in other ways.

I’m not quite sure what led me to finally pick up Water for Elephants, but I’m glad I did.  There were a few things about the story-telling that I didn’t like.  But in general, I thought it was a vibrant story, set in a completely fascinating time period and filled will real characters.

Unfortunately, the two main characters, Jacob and Marlena, weren’t really all that interesting to me.  As I read the story, I started to see them more as the lens through which we view this amazing world of a depression-era traveling circus.  Their love story was fraught, as Amanda pointed out yesterday, by the lightning-quick mood changes of ringmaster, August. But I didn’t worry about the outcome of the tale as it related to them.  I worried about the more minor characters, who’s fate seemed to lie in Jacob’s hands.

Jacob’s roommate, Walter, was actually one of the more real characters in the story.  This character was set up from the beginning as an obstacle to Jacob, a characterization of the difficulty of being accepted into the world of the circus.  But, Walter changed.  He became a person, he was given depth and a history.  He even became a hero in the end and when he was redlighted, I was actually upset and surprised.  But Jacob’s near miss didn’t affect me nearly as much.

Another central character in the story pulled me in.  Rosie, the eponymous elephant, had soul.  She’s a trickster and she’s stubborn (something I really identify with).  I have always loved animals, and elephants in particular are fascinating to me.  But I really didn’t expect to be so taken with Rosie as a protagonist.  Especially after the first chapter, when I had written her off as a violent rogue animal.

So, in short, this isn’t chick lit.  It’s a great story set in a strangely romantic era, but the central romance in the story, though it is set up as the most important element of the book, comes off as a bit of a foregone conclusion.  Despite this (rather large) problem that I saw in the book, I really enjoyed it and it was totally worth reading.  If only for the elephants and the dogs!

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