I finished Water for Elephants last night. It seems redundant at this point to write an actual review, but then it would be incomplete if I didn't include my final impressions after all this ruminating.
I give this book a B+. It was well-written, thought provoking, and had a surprise twist that was a real treat. I recommend it to you, my friends.
However, I felt the ending was a bit rushed and unsatisfying. I'm no novelist, but I imagine there is a point at which you have to extricate yourself painfully from the world you've created. I imagine it's done joylessly, dutifully, and without the glorious inspiration that carries a writer through the earlier parts of the story. I could have asked for one more chapter. I could have asked for a few more questions to be answered.
I searched high and low for the photo of my little son and me riding an elephant at the circus in Garberville one summer in the '90s. I wanted to illustrate this post with that photo but alas!
It was a scorching hot day, and I'd gone to the circus site early to take a photo for the paper. The elephant caretaker had walked the elephants down the road and to the Eel River for a swim. I struck up a conversation with him and even met him for drinks later; I was going to write a feature article but I never did.
I forgot his name. He was just an ordinary young man, skinny, in need of a shave and none too clean. What was striking about him was his deep love and respect for the elephants he cared for. We sat in the dim light of the Blue Room, a seedy little bar in Garberville, and, smelling faintly of elephants, he told me his story.
He had run away from home to join the circus. He was given the job of taking care of the elephants, though he had no experience. He even slept with them at night. They were the most intelligent and sensitive creatures he had ever known, better than any family he'd ever had. They were playful, mischievous and loyal. The ones he took care of were young, adolescents Older ones would have been much bigger and harder to manage. They got hot and needed a swim, mud, water to hydrate their skin. Thus the river excursion.
It was a fascinating conversation. I remember he spat when I said the word "carny" in some context, and gave me an earful about the rigid and formal hierarchy that exists in the circus world. Carnies were like subhuman creatures in his opinion, the lowest of the low. I never looked at the workers on the midway at the County Fair the same way ever again after that.
If I find that photo later I'll post it.