Before even considering the writing style of Sara Gruen there are about a thousand reasons why I was destined to fall in love with this book within plot points alone. First of all, I am slightly obsessed with elephants. I wrote a lengthy research paper this past summer about them, which only solidified my preexisting adoration. Secondly, Jacob Janowski as a protagonist… my mother’s maiden name is Krystyniak, Poles unite! Also, I love the elderly… the oldies, as I like to call them. Oldies always have the very best stories, as this novel so beautifully illustrates. Jumping trains and joining the circus, nothing spells adventure in American folk lore more!
I really do feel that Gruen did an amazing job of tenderly portraying the elderly Jacob without pretending he wasn’t crotchety and difficult to deal with. Thats one of my favorite qualities of oldies, they’re so unapologetic with their discontent. I’d be a cranky pants too if I had led an amazing life only to live out my last days at an old folks corral that reeked of urine.
Even August who was clearly insane and disturbing on every level had an element of humanism to engage the reader, which was a daunting element to successfully include, considering. I found myself thinking during August’s “high” points of mania, the charming human phases, “Man, if only the poor guy had a good pharmacist, damn,”… Until the next elephant beating. The brutality was essential though not only for realism of the place and time, but to enhance the desperateness, urgency, and sincerity of the love triangle. It’s hard to really make the two adulterers the heros of the story, but the situation was so seamlessly painted I didn’t even question the morality of Jacob and Marlene once.
And I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read this book, but the ending! I’m normally very judgmental of story conclusions, and get irritated if I don’t feel I have closure of sorts with the story, but that ending; it was just perfect :)