Continuing in the spirit of “what resonates with readers”… I’ve been thinking about what resonates with readers today — those “hot” book club choices that everyone seems to be reading, but probably won’t stand the test of time and become classics. I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen over the weekend and believe this novel qualifies. I had previously read Riding Lessons by the same author and enjoyed it. I am always on the look-out for literature about horses, and this novel about a recovering Olympic equestrienne and a mystery brindle was satisfying.
I didn’t connect the two titles until Water for Elephants arrived (finally!) from the library, and I actually found it more engaging, regarding the plot and characters, than her earlier novel. I was surprised since I have little interest in the weird, “You Tube”-esque, exhibitionist world of the circus — my brief stint as a fried vegetables girl at county fairs in Indiana satified any curiosity I might have otherwise had about life on the circuit, and the animal-lover in me shies away from the inevitable scenes of animal cruelty. But my book club chose Water For Elephants, and it seems to be everywhere right now, so I gave it a whirl.
While engaging and fast-paced — with a witty and sympathetic main character — I just can’t believe it will become a part of who I am as a reader and as an individual. Entertaining — yes! Life-altering — probably not.
So, I started thinking about WHY Water for Elephants is so popular right now. It seems that we (book clubbers) love internal conflicts, and in this novel the primary, and most interesting, conflict is within the heart and memory of the main character. In fact, the external conflicts are a little too “made for t.v.” for me — deranged, un-diagnosed schizophrenic animal handler; beautiful, long-suffering horse acrobat; the performers versus the working men; a misunderstood elephant, etc… The more interesting elements were within Jacob — a ninety or ninety-three year old man flashing back through the adventures of his life. The most compelling questions involved identity — how it shifts throughout our life — and how to find value in a life so near its end few others find value in it. Book clubs are mostly populated by women, for some reason, and women tend to want fiction that focuses on relationships. So, our “hot” books — anything by Jodi Picoult, The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter, etc… — tend to satisfy that desire. The more interesting question is why? Do we want to compare our own relationships to fictional ones? Or imagine how we would react to a similar situation? Or are we just simply curious about how others spend their time on earth? In the meantime, I just ordered Flying Changes, Gruen’s sequel to Riding Lessons, and am looking forward to an enjoyable afternoon in the near future…