Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Elephant Stories IV: Never Say 'Carnies'

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.


Kristen said...

Hi There Indie :)

Thanks for sharing both the book review and the story of the young man tonight. I really needed to read that tonight (although I am unsure particularly of why). Perhaps, it is always good to read, hear, and know that we do all find our unique places in this world, if we are brave enough to love what we put into our days (and those inside our days). . . . Anyway, thanks :)

BTW, I am loving the new profile pic of "yourself," "in progress." But, I surely hope that you are NOT writing your Thesis on a dreaded Typewriter!!! **heehee** Believe it or not, I learned how to type on a steel black--heavy as hell--typewriter (I went to a country school that didn't have enough computers yet!).

I'm sending you lots of warmth tonight :) . . . . Let me know if you watch that movie I mentioned.

In Joy and Warmth,

Lucy said...

you have had some of the most interesting encounters I have ever heard! I am very interested in carnival culture, I just think it is so fascinating. Thanks for the great read!

Indie said...

Kristen, I rented it, but Angela came over and made me watch a movie called, "But I'm a Cheerleader." (Don't even ask..) Tomorrow night's entertainment fare. The movie was located in the Family section of the video store! And I like your new pic too!

Indie said...

Lucy, the book is all ready for you. Just a few wavy pages from bathtub reading. :)

steviewren said...

Hi Indie, I'm glad you found my blog today because I in turn have found yours. I knew right away that I was going to like you because you are the only other person I know who has seen Under Solen. And yes, I am a big fan of the movie also. I found it at my local library and watched it at least 3 times before I returned it. Your review of Water for Elephants has me wanting to read it also. The premise of circus life during the prohibition sounds intriguing. I be back again visit soon. Nice to meet you.

Indie said...

Steviewren, I'm so glad you've returned the blog visit.

Now I remember how I found your blog in the first place: I was googling Under Solen! Yes, it is my favorite movie ever, and I watched it twice before returning it too.

Larry The Kidman said...

I read Water For Elephants last month and now it is floating, being passed among my friends. A wonderfully written book............the nursing home scenes are chilling.

Indie said...

Hi Larry, I'm so glad you came to read my blog!

Yes the nursing home scenes were chilling. I neatly skimmed right past that, didn't I?

My grandmother spent her last years in one, and it was a dreary place to live and die.

Kudos to the people who can do that work and treat our elders kindly.

When we moved her there, she told us, "Just don't put me in a room with anybody I hate!" I marveled at her having the passion to hate anyone when youthful me just vacillated between liking people and being neutral toward them.

Eventually, she didn't know who we were exactly when we visited, but nevertheless she cried when we would leave.

My dad and I would walk to the car grimly and make death pacts if it ever came to that for either of us.