Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, published by Algonquin Books, reviewed by J.S. Bradford
I literally discovered Water for Elephants in the street. Driving down a major metropolitan thoroughfare, I spotted the fluttering pages of a trampled book lying in the middle of the road. On impulse, I pulled over, timed my move, then bolted out into the street, scooped up the book and dashed back to my car. Curiously flipping through the text, my first thought was of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, but, after reading the captivating prologue, I soon recognized the novel as an ensemble of intrigue, nostalgia, romance and mystery powered by youthful quest. In the process, the reader is completely absorbed by a compelling portrayal of life in a traveling circus.
One reason I so enjoyed the novel was quite simply I learned something about the art of writing. Here’s what I learned: Victor Hugo was right; structure is everything. The structure deployed by the author blends a prologue of a crucial scene, followed by a fast forward to a contemporary scene, then flashback and back story (supported by period photographs), multiple scenes of crisis, sub-themes, climax, and finally, a fade out revisit to the setting of the prologue. Nothing to it, right? It may seem elementary, but if you read the novel, you will admire the skill of the author. I’m sure glad I pulled over and rescued my free copy.
~Reviewed by J.S. Bradford