Boy meets girl, boy meets elephant, and an old man remembers... Water for Elephants is a sweet love story about an old man recalling his adventures in a depression-era circus. I saw that this book was being made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz (I loved his Inglorious Basterds character) and I wanted to read the novel before I saw it.
After tragedy strikes his family, Jacob Jankowski runs away from college and "accidentally" joins the circus, becoming the veterinarian for The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Behind all the glamour and showmanship is a seedy world of segregation between the performers and the workers. Jacob falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful performer who is practically a horse whisperer and who is unfortunately married to a paranoid schizophrenic named August. August is the animal trainer and manages to be as abusive as he is charming, a dangerous combination.
Making friends and enemies on his travels with the circus, Jacob eventually ends up in a nursing home at the ripe old age of ninety (or ninety-three!), recalling the highs and lows. Sara Gruen does a great job of making you feel for the characters, something I hope translates in the film. Though she's not quite as sappy as Nicholas Sparks, and not quite as imaginative as Daniel Wallace's Big Fish, Gruen manages to combine love and fantasy with a gritty reality in a highly entertaining way. I recommend this book for a quick, fun read.