Monday, March 29, 2010
6. WATER for ELEPHANTS
Sara Gruen 2006
In this charming historical fiction, Jacob Jankowski, the protagonist, is in his nineties and lives in a nursing home. He is informed that the circus is in town. This ignites his failing memory and through a series of flashbacks, he relates his life as an animal caretaker of a travelling circus. He remembers his friends Camel and Walter, the ringmaster August, Marlena who becomes his wife, and Rosie the magnificent elephant. She will stay with you forever.
'Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook.'(opening line)
'She was on the opposite side, standing against the sidewall, calm as a summer day. Her sequins flashed like liquid diamonds, a shimmering beacon between the muticolored hides. She saw me, too, and held my gaze for what seemed like forever. She was cool, languid. Smiling even. I started pushing my way toward her, but something about her expression stopped me cold.'(4)
'You start to forget words: they're on the tip of your tongue, but instead of eventually dislodging, they stay there. You go upstairs to fetch something, and by the time you get there you can't remember what it was you were after. You call your child by names of all your other children and finally the dog before you get to his. Sometimes you forget what day it is. And finally you forget the year.'(5)
'Age is a terrible thief. Just when you're getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head... (12)
'Although there are times I'd give anything to have her back, I'm glad she went first. Losing her was like being cleft down the middle. It was the moment it all ended for me, and I wouldn't have wanted her to go through that. Being the survivor stinks.'(13)
'I'm lying on the floor, looking up at the stripper's dangling breasts. Her nipples, brown and the size of silver dollar pancakes, swing in circles- out and around, SLAP. Out and around, SLAP. I feel a pang of excitement, then remorse and then nausea.'(63)
'I've decided it's not about me at all. It's a protective mechanism for them, a way of buffering themselves against my future death, like when teenagers distance themselves from their parents in preparation for leaving home.'(109)
"No, August -- you have an elephant. Her name is Rosie, she's fifty three and she's perfectly brilliant. The best bull they had. I can't wait to see the act you come up with --"(124)
'When I return to the lot, Rosie has been installed in the menagerie tent. I don't know how, and I don't ask.
She smiles when I approach and then rubs her eye, curling the tip of her trunk like a fist. I watch her for a couple of minutes and then step over the rope. Her ears flatten and her eyes narrow. My heart sinks, because I think she's responding to me. Then I hear his voice.'(148)
'Marlena begins swinging... The drum roll mounts as she gains momentum. Before long she's swinging parallel to the ground. I wonder how long she's going to keep this up and just what the heck she's planning to do when she suddenly releases the pole. She sails through the air, tucking her body into a ball and rolling forward twice. She uncurls at her feet, straighten up, and thrusts both arms into the air. The band launches into victory music and the crowd goes wild. Moments later, coins rain down on the hippodrome track.'(165)
'It's hard to reconcile this August with the other one, and to be honest I don't try very hard. I've seen flashes of this August before -- this brightness, this conviviality, this generosity of spirit -- but I know what he's capable of, and I won't forget it. The other can believe what they like, but I don't believe for a second that this is the real August and the other an aberration. And yet I can see how they might be fooled--'(229)
'Elephants like alcohol... One whiff of this and she doesn't care about cabbages anymore. Ah!'
'I lie motionless, savoring the feeling of her body against mine. I'm afraid to breathe in case I break the spell.'(273)
'Even so, I wonder whether our affair isn't obvious. It seems to me that the bonds between us must be visible.'(280)
an Algonquin Books First Paperback Edition
Quotes updated: May 2, 2011