Tag Archives: Water for Elephants

Review: At the Water’s Edge

Recap: The world takes Maddie Hyde by storm when, in 1945, her husband Ellis and his best friend, Hank, whisk her away to Scotland to search for the Loch Ness Monster. It sounds silly, but the search is very real for Hank and especially Ellis, whose father tried and failed to find it himself, thereby making a national fool of himself. Now Ellis is set on redeeming his father and proving his worth by finding the monster himself.

But as the three leave their socialite home of Philadelphia for a shabby inn/restaurant in Scotland, they realize their lives can’t be any more different from those who live by the sea. Day in and day out, Hank and Ellis spend their time looking for the loch and getting good and drunk. This leaves Maddie to her own devices at the inn, where she eventually befriends the staff. The longer Ellis is gone, the drunker he gets, and the more abusive he acts toward Maddie — both emotionally and verbally. Maddie soon notices many of her prescription pills are missing, and she’s correct in assuming Ellis is taking them. The time spent in Scotland opens Maddie’s eyes to the man her husband truly is and makes her wonder where her life is going from here — her own internal war as WWII rages on in Europe and as her husband struggles to find the Loch Ness Monster and his own worthiness.

AnalysisAt the Water’s Edge is ripe with metaphors in a beautiful, if not mildly overstated, way. Initially, the search for the Loch Ness Monster comes across as silly — surprising at the very least, especially coming from bestselling Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen. But as the story continues, the existence of the loch becomes less important.  It becomes clear that the monster is a metaphor for all of the other monsters in Maddie’s life — Hitler, her husband, her lack of family support. In the end, when she confronts all these monsters simultaneously, it happens — where else? — at the water’s edge. Yet another metaphor for her imminent rebirth and fresh start, of which she is entirely deserving.

While the metaphors are well-devised, so is the structure of the novel, which starts off with a brief scene that takes place three years before the start of Maddie’s story. When those two story lines eventually converge, it’s done in a way that made me say “Ohhhhhhh” out loud. It takes some time, but it all starts to come together, and the book picks up momentum from there. It’s hard to tell where Gruen is going with the novel, but that uncertainty is refreshing, as is the ending of the novel. Maddie’s empowering development is similar to that which Gruen writes about in Water for Elephants, and this book is likely to have the same success.

MVP: Maddie. She grew up feeling so undeserving of anything, but as it turns out, she is the most deserving of good things. It’s just a matter of pushing herself to realize that. When she does, she blossoms, and that self-discovery is exciting to experience.

Get At the Water’s Edge in hardcover for $20.72.

Or on your Kindle for $11.84.

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Movie vs. Book: Water for Elephants

A strange but beautiful combination of animals, romance, and historical fiction, Water For Elephants tells the story of a man who starts off as a Cornell University veterinary student and ends as a tired, old, former circus member. When 90-something Jacob Jankowski hears the circus is in town, it brings him back to his younger years, when he traveled the country working for the circus.

It’s where he regained control of his life after his parents died. It’s where he fell in love with an elephant named Rosie, who went on to become a his personal pet. And it’s also where he met the love of life, Marlena. Jacob relives these memories by telling his story to a current employee of the circus.

The movie Water For Elephants stays close to Sara Gruen’s beloved book — particularly with the 1930’s circus memories section. The only place the movie veers from the original is in its details of the older, current Jacob. In the book, Jacob’s narration takes place in his own mind. For the majority of the book, he is in a nursing home, conversing with his nurse and fellow elderly friends. When he learns that the circus is in town, just a few blocks from the nursing home, he gets frustrated that he’s stuck in a home and begins to reflect on his time in the circus. In the book, Jacob doesn’t go to the circus until the very end. That’s when he befriends the circus worker. But the movie starts with Jacob going to the circus. He begins to tell his story to the circus worker, and that’s where we delve into his former life.

Yes, the movie made a pretty big change in terms of narration and the overall story. But in Water for Elephants, the story within the story is the best part, and the movie portrayed that story quite well.

Reese Witherspoon is dazzling as Marlena, though — dare I say it? — she may have been a bit old for the part. (In the book, Marlena is 21. Reese Witherspoon turns 36 this year.) Christoph Waltz is cruelly evil as Marlena’s husband, August. And even Rob Pattinson is a surprisingly good and believable Jacob.

What I didn’t believe was the onscreen chemistry between the two of them. One could make the argument that anytime you put two attractive people together, they’re going to have chemistry. But I was hoping for the “Rachel McAdams-Ryan Gosling-The Notebook” kind of chemistry, and I didn’t get that here.

Overall, if you loved the book, you will love the movie. It mostly stays true to the story, and the set and costumes gel perfectly. Visually, the movie is just what you picture when reading the book, and that makes it magical.
Get Water for Elephants for $10.

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Review: Water for Elephants

Recap:  There’s nothing like a good love triangle. Put that triangle in an usual setting, and you’ve got yourself a story. Such is the case with Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants. Elephants follows the story of a Jacob Jankowski, a man in his 90s who lives in a nursing home. The circus comes to town, and the mere mention of the word “circus” brings Jacob back to his young in the 1930’s — a time when circuses were all the rage.

After Jacob’s parents died, Jacob drops out of vet school at Cornell University and joins the circus on a whim. It’s the time of the Great Depression, and with no money, no parents, and no college degree, he decides to stay with the traveling performers. But he soon learns there’s a difference between the entertainers and the working men. He joins the ranks as a working man, serving as the vet for the exotic animals in the show.

In due time, he not only falls in love with the new, untrained, seemingly dumb elephant, Rosie, but he also falls for the show’s star performer, Marlena. One small problem: Marlena happens to be married to one of the show’s directors, August.

Analysis: In some ways, Elephants is a story that’s been written many times over — a love triangle in which the woman is torn between two men with starkly different backgrounds. But it’s the setting and animal subplot that add flavor to this book.

The 1930’s setting deals with a lot of historical issues, including the Great Depression, prohibition, and the technological hindering in the world of medical treatment. For instance, a number of men in the circus suffer from Jake’s leg, a disease caused by drinking contaminated Jamaican ginger that often made its way into alcohol at the time. When one comes down with Jake’s leg, he becomes paralyzed and dies. Not to mention, August suffers from schizophrenia, a disease that was known back then, but not properly treated.

And the animal plot delves deep into animal treatment. In the book, the exotic animals were often times beat to a pulp — something that simply would not fly these days — especially if they were circus animals.

Gruen’s telling of the story also makes it appealing. It reminded me of The Notebook in that it flipped back and forth between a story from long ago and the present day — in which the storyteller is old and reflecting back on his or her life. Water for Elephants is an exciting, engaging page-turner.

MVP: Kinko/Walter, Jacob’s bunkmate. Initially, Kinko is a grouchy, condescending performer — a dwarf — who wants nothing to do with Jacob. But his character develops, and we learn that he may be a dwarf, but he has a giant heart.

Now you can buy Water for Elephants for less than $10.

Not to mention, check out the movie, starring Robert Pattinson (Jacob) and Reese Witherspoon (Marlena).

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