Sex, violence and circus animals. What’s not to love?
I enjoyed Water for Elephants from the start, but as it neared its conclusion, it just kept getting better and better. On my scale, it went from four stars to five stars in the final chapters.
There’s a technique I’ve been seeing too often in television shows, where something terribly dramatic happens in the opening scene. Then we see a title that says “24 hours earlier” and we find out the events that led to the dramatic circumstance.
Water for Elephants opens with a dramatic prologue that introduces us to Jacob (our hero), Marlena (his love interest) and Rosie (an elephant). Then we’re introduced to Jacob as a nonagenarian in a nursing home. When the circus comes to town, he reflects on the events that led to his becoming a circus veterinarian and falling in love with both Marlena and Rosie.
I started asking myself why the writer felt the need to start with that prologue. I felt like it detracted from the story because I thought I knew where the characters would end up. Without giving anything away, I will say that the prologue is, in fact, masterfully written and enhances an already powerful climax.
For some reason I want to compare my experience reading Water for Elephants with another heralded book about animals, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I found Sawtelle enormously disappointing, after being completely entranced by the dogs in the early chapters. I learned later in his interview with Oprah that the author didn’t know why his characters did the things they did. Sawtelle also had a deliberately mysterious prologue, but none of the questions it raised are answered in the story. As the story started falling apart, I kept reading, eager to find a satisfying conclusion, but found none.
So I was thrilled last night as I read the last 150 pages of Elephants, to feel it going somewhere and have it arrive with all the pieces intact. It’s not a perfect novel. I had some criticisms along the way, but I can’t remember what any of them were, because I so completely enjoyed the dénouement.