Book Review: Water For Elephants

I decided I’m going to start doing my readings based of the Best Seller List. I know Water for Elephants isn’t a new book, but it topped the list and I happened to have it at my house. So if you don’t want the book (or the movie) spoiled, don’t read the part after the asterisks! And this book is fantastic and exciting, so I really suggest you not read the bottom!

Jacob Jankowski is a “ninety or ninety three” old man living in a nursing home. The book is based off of his memories which start back in his days at Cornell when he was enrolled, studying to be a veterinarian and work in the family business. But when his father and mother are killed in a horrible car accident, and Jacob finds that the house and business are owned by the bank, he has no where to go. Jacob sees a train rolling by and hops on. When the men in the car decide not to throw him off, he finds that he is part of the Benzini Brothers Most spectacular Show on Earth.

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When Jacob jumps the train he meets Curly, Blackie and Grady. They deem that he should be able to get a job on the circus and Curly introduces him the ringmaster, Uncle Al, when the train stops. While Curly is looking for Uncle Al, Jacob stumbles into the big circus tent and sees a girl and a man talking. Jacob is stunned by the girl who wears a pink sequined, feathered dress. She turns around and smiles at him and he leaves the tent when Curly finds him. Before Jacob starts working as a vet, he is given a job as a guard in the cooch tent. The cooch tent is a tent where there is a stripping show. Jacob is a virgin, and he leaves the experience awed and dumbstruck. After Jacob is done guarding the tent, Curly finds him and offers him a bottle of Jake (Jamaican Ginger Extract) which is not to be used as an alcoholic beverage, but during prohibition it was all Curly could get his hands on. He offers some to Jacob but he declines and he learns that Curly has a son his age. Curly tries to ask Uncle Al again for a job, but Uncle Al dismisses Curly. Later on Earl, a train guard, helps Jacob out by pretending that he was a train jumper and now is when Uncle Al gives him a job as the official vet. He is above the working class, halfway in the performers class, and is given a spot in the horse car, where he will share a room with a grumpy clown named Kinko. When he talks to Uncle Al, the girl in pink is also there. Jacob learnes her name is Marlena and that she is married to the equestrian director named August.

There is a flashback to Jacob in the retirement home. There is a new resident who moves in when the circus comes to town. He claims to Jacob’s friends that he carried water for the elephants (hence the name of the book) and Jacob yells that he is lying and is taken back to his room. The next day Jacob complains about his food and accidently pushes his tray off the table and is deemed necessary of an antidepressant. There is a nice nurse there, Rosemary, who Jacob starts to get attached to and she starts to care about him as well.

The next day, Jacob examines the horse show’s lead horse, Silver Star, and discovers that the horse will never perform again. Marlena is there when he finds out and August tries to comfort her, telling her Jacob will take good care of the horse. But Jacob knows the horse won’t get better. The train is packed up again, Uncle Al has heard of another circus that just went under, and rushes to pick up some of their things.

When the train stops the next day, Jacob is leaving his cart when August is telling men to unload the horses. Jacob tells them not to unload Silver Star and this sets August off. August tells Jacob that he needs to help feeds the cats, and to feed the cats you get in their cages. When Jacob drops down into the cage, the cat bites him on the arm, but the cat has no teeth. August acts like it is all a big joke, but Jacob storms off. Later, Jacob is invited to a party at August and Marlena’s car. When August is drunk and has to be put to bed, Marlena reveals that sometimes he has strange moments that he can be the most charming man in the world or the craziest. The next morning, Jacob finds out that Silver Star needs to be put down and finds out later that his meat was fed to the cats whose meat had spoiled.

The circus arrives at the other circus that had collapsed and Uncle Al purchases an elephant. Her name is Rosie, but she doesn’t respond to any commands and basically is a dud. That night, Kinko is throwing a party in their car and Jacob gets drunk. During this time the lady from the cooch tent, Barbara, and her friend Nell find out that Jacob is a virgin, and seek to change that. But Jacob has had more than he can handle, and throws up on Nell. the next morning he wakes up ashamed, but Kinko, now Walter, and his dog, Queenie, and Jacob are friends. The next morning, August finds Jacob and tells him to find Marlena and make sure she doesn’t go near the front of the train because they are killing the other cirsus’ horses for their meat. But when Jacob finds Marlena in her car, she is upset because she is watching August trying to command and knows that August is killing the other circus’ horses for their meat. Jacob holds Marlena in the car as she cries.

The next day, August apologizes to Jacob for being rough on him and invites him to a club at night. The taxi drives them and Jacob, August, and Marlena arrive at an underground club where there is still alcohol. August takes Marlena on the dance floor and when he leaves to get drinks, Marlena and Jacob dance. While they are dancing there is a raid on the club, and Jacob sees August staring at them fuming. They lose August in the chaos, and Jacob and Marlena escape into an alley. Jacob kisses Marlena, and she leaves him to find his own way home.

The next day, Uncle al puts Rosie in the parade and since the elephant doesn’t understand commands, Marlena gets hurt when Rosie runs out of the arena. Rosie is taken out of the show but not before she escapes into the town. A polish man named Greg retrieves Rosie by giving her whiskey, which elephants apparently love. When Rosie is back, August goes to her tent to teach her a lesson and Jacob is horrified.

Later in the week, Camel is sick and Marlena offers her doctor to Jacob when he is finished with her. The doctor diagnoses Camel with Jamaica Ginger Paralysis from drinking the Jake, Jacob remembers the batch Camel offered him and is glad he didn’t drink from it. Jacob knows he will be red lighted (thrown from the train) so he hides Camel in his and Walter’s car. They find his son and he agrees to meet them in two weeks at one of the stops.

Marlena is better soon and Jacob witnesses one of her shows. He is mesmerized by her and finds his attraction for her growing stronger. Then someone starts stealing the lemonade and it is later found out that it is Rosie. While August goes to beat her again, Marlena reveals everyhting about August. That she met a charmingly handsome man one day, married him the next, and then found out his true self. Later that night, Walter brings whiskey and Jacob takes it as a treat to Rosie. Here he learns that when Greg speaks in Polish, Rosie obeys! Uncle Al puts on a spectacular show with Rosie later in the week and the show is only getting better.

Marlena decides that she is going to throw August a surprise party and Jacob and Rosie are invited. They are set up in a tent with Rosie and a dinner table. When August comes in Jacob pops the champagne and they yell surprise, but August is furious. He accuses the pair of cheating together and Jacob and him get in a fight. Later August brings Marlena back to their car, where he hits her.  Marlena leaves him, and Jacob goes to find her a hotel in town. After she has a hotel room, Uncle Al talks to Jacob and tries to persuade him to get Marlena and August back together. He tells Jacob that August is schizophrenic, but that the show will fall apart if August and Marlena can;t work together. When Jacob says he won;t help, Uncle Al reveals that he knows about Camel. Jacob has to agree.

Jacob goes to make sure that Marlena is okay when he finds out August was going hotel to hotel. At the hotel they sleep together, and Jacob tells Marlena he loves her, and she tells him back. Jacob and Marlena plan to leave the show as soon as they give Camel to his son. Marelna later reveals to Jacob that she is pregnant, and Jacob knows it is time to leave. When August ruins the show by grabbing Marlena offstage, Jacob hops from car to car and plans to kill August. When he reaches the car however, August is so peaceful in sleep but Jacob leaves the knife he carried as a reminder. When Jacob reaches his car, Walter and Jacob are gone and the door is throw open. He realizes that they have been readlighted over a bridge, a gesture that was meant for Jacob himself, ordered by the man he spared.

Marlena and Jacob plan to leave immediately after the show. Marlena goes back to her car to get her money, and Jacob goes with Grady to get lunch at a grease cart. Grady tells Jacob that they plan to punish Uncle Al, that Camel was the last straw. While they are eating, the band strikes up the disaster march, something has gone terribly wrong. Jacob runs to the menagerie to find Marlena.

Inside there is a stampede. He sees Marlean standing near Rosie, and August is facing away from her, screaming at the animals running. Jacob watches as Rosie lifts her metal stake out of the ground and hits August on the back of the head, killing him and pushing him into the stampede. Jacob doesn’t know if Marlena saw Rosie kill August.

The circus collapses. Other circuses come to pick up the Benzini Brother’s goods. When they try to buy Rosie and Marlena’s horses, Jacob can;t tlet them and suddenly they now have these animals in their possesion. Jacob calls Cornell and asks to retake his exams, which he will be allowed to do. The only thing to do, is to join Ringling.

The book goes back to Jacob as an old man. his family never showed to take him to the circus. He sneaks out of the retirement home and meets a man who he tells that he was part of the Benzini Brother’s during the stampede. The man invites him to his trailer after the show. Jacob tells him his whole story and when the cops come looking for him, the man pretends Jacob is his father. Jacob convinces him to let him stay on the road with him to sell tickets. He is home.

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