Your Friday Recommendation #5

The Ron Book Team meets on Monday evening, and we’ve chosen to discuss the recent New York Times bestseller and decidedly fast read, Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.

If you’ve set foot in a bookstore in the past year, you’ve undoubtedly seen stacks of this novel neatly laid out on a table by the front door. I often resist consciously reading bestsellers, relying on my own instincts for reading material instead of relying on what’s “popular.” I acknowledge I likely miss many great reads because of this attitude, but lucky for me, RBT gave me a good excuse to read Gruen’s novel.

Told in first-person by a ninety-year-old man (maybe ninety-three, he’s really not sure) looking back on his experiences in the circus, the story begins with an action-packed flashback and pulls back to a present-time perspective as the narrator gives the readers full disclosure.

The success of the story is the circus setting. In fact as a craft choice, the setting is the definitive piece which makes this novel unique, while the love story doesn’t leave many surprises. The characters interact with the setting, and only its specific characteristics can effectively help tell the story. Every aspect of what our protagonist does is based on how he discovers the environment around him and how to live in it. If you’re like me and you struggle to include setting as a strong storytelling component, you could do worse than read Gruen’s novel as a good example on how to do it right. If you’re looking for active protagonists who don’t have to rely on coincidence to fuel their next decisions, you won’t find that here. Still, the setting is captivating and as setting is something I’m trying to tackle, I recommend this book.

I packed away nearly half the book on the plane out to NYC and hope to finish it on the way back (edit: I finished it on the way back with time to spare). Perhaps I’ll have additional thoughts next week after the Ron Book Club discusses the novel (edit: nope, I got sick enough to miss the meeting and cancel my classes that week). In the meantime, with the above paragraph-long love letter to setting, I’m sure you can imagine what Your Monday Prompt will focus on…


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