Sara Gruen is my hero.
I say that with the caveat that I know essentially nothing about her. But what I do know makes her one of my role models. Because she did something that I have not yet managed to do: she finished NaNoWriMo, and then kept with it. She edited and rewrote, and probably rewrote some more, and then she started submitting.
And the result is an eminently readable book that deserves the praise it’s gotten. It may not have bookmarkable prose or anything, but it works, and it’s a lot better writing than a lot of other things that get published.
I’m fascinated by structure right now – mostly because I don’t really understand it yet, and don’t have a good sense of it in my own writing. The structure of Water for Elephants is pretty cool – it’s a mixture of flashback and present-day, but the transitions are very smooth. Jacob is an old man, in a nursing home, and when the circus comes to town, he starts drifting back to his days working at a circus. Every so often, he gets pulled back to the present, in part by a nurse named Rosemary (rosemary for remembrance, and another important character is named Rosie – I doubt this is a coincidence).
The story of his time at a circus is a complete story, encompassing all the rules of circus life, friendship, and love – all tricky and complicated.
For me, one sign of a good book is one that leaves you wanting to know more. This book had at least two points for that: it was incredibly interesting to get a sense of the peripatetic circus life during the Depression – not knowing whether you’d get paid that week, pulling up stakes quickly because another circus has gone broke and you want to pick through their performers and stock, the perils of Prohibition and moonshine – both physical and social. The other is that of circus disasters – Water for Elephants features a menagerie stampede, and mentions a Ringling Brothers fire and a circus train crash. These are both things that my brain wants to explore further, so thank you, Sara Gruen, for making me interested in them.