Let’s talk about carnivals, shall we?
I Love Them. Everything about them. The games, the sounds, the feel, the taste, the smells….well- maybe not *all* the smells, but hey- cotton candy fresh outta the machine? Who can resist THAT smell? In any case, I love carnivals.
The reason I bring this up, has to do primarily with my previous entry, which you may recall, about The Neverending Story. See, I read this book. And it was about carnival life, and joining the circus, and…..I just didn’t want it to end.
No, it wasn’t Geek Love, although I have read that book as well. No, it was much, much better.
Many months ago, my mother handed me this book called Water For Elephants, and she insisted I read it, saying (as my mother usually does when she finds something that is off-beat, wacky and just “out there” enough) “This is just your speed.” While this sometimes that makes me feel like I am driving the short bus, I have come to realize that this particular vehicle happens to be chock full of incredibly intelligent, quirky, sometimes misanthropic but always engaging humans, and I don’t really *mind* going that “speed.” So I keep driving.
So I read Water For Elephants. And, as usual, my mother was spot-on. This book was BRILLIANT. It really isn’t often that I add things to my favorite books list. In fact, I think the last time I did, I got a line from it tattooed on my arm and I was 19 or 20 years old. I’m adding this to the list. Maybe someday I’ll post that list here. Books are one of the only areas I am very confident and have an incredibly limited scale of favorites. When you get into other media….forget it. At any rate, I digress. Back to Water For Elephants.
In my living room, on one of my many bookcases, I have an entire shelf that is overflowing with “carnival content.” From fact to fiction, photography to posters, I have collected books and studies on freakshows, canivals and circus life in general. While I am most certainly no expert, as I have not yet memorized the entirety of carny lingo, I have most certainly tried my best and am still trying to know as much about the midway, ten-in-one’s, and the rest, as I can.
As a fan/lover/carnival aficionado, I can tell you the historicity on this book was…exquisite. There were a few areas where the language was a bit clunky, but the protagonist himself was clunky at those times, so I think that perhaps I was just being a bit too nitpicky at the characters being “overexplanatory” in ways and things that I already knew. Of course, one must always recognize things like this to be a hazard of the trade, I suppose, when you do school yourself/specialize in a subject like that. But in any case, unlike Keanu Reeves’ attempt at a British accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this little point did not prove to be very distracting or obnoxious.
Gruen did her homework. That much is for sure. Even moreso, she was able to write a believable male character…in several stages of his life. I believe that one of the most striking things about this piece of literature, beyond centering, quite literally, on the more animalistic arenas of circus life, was that it didn’t just cover, didn’t just delve, but it bathed in the muddy process of aging, and what that might entail.
This isn’t an easy book. And it doesn’t have the kitsch or the camp of some of the more popular carnival fare (pun intended), like She-Freak or Freaks. In fact it bares a more consistent thematic to something like Nightmare Alley, and yet even that is an unfair comparison. No, this book is unlike any story I have seen or read before. Thus…I have to read it again. I haven’t said THAT about a book since……well, probably that same one I got the line tattooed on my arm!
If you decide to read any piece of fiction in the near future, might I recommend that you give Water for Elephants a try? It too might be just your speed, too…..