Ever dream of running away and joining the circus? Well, not really, But Sara Gruen’s wistful novel of remembrance almost makes one wish you’d done just that. Almost. Jacob Jankowski narrates his life story from his nursing home, a story in which tragedy sent his life spinning off in a direction that he could not have foreseen.
Nearly ready to graduate from vet school and follow in his father’s footsteps, Jacob learns that both his parents have been killed in an auto accident. He learns further that his parents hocked everything they had in order to send him to the best school in the country, and that he is left with nothing. What to do? Hop a freight train and come what may. As it happens, the train he hops is a circus train, and so, Jacob’s great life-long adventure begins as he joins – out of necessity – the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Well, it’s anything but. It’s second rate and poorly run. Not much more than a carny on wheels run by a con-man. Through it all, Jacob survives as the last good man standing, though along the way he learns a thing or two about friendship and loyalty.
I listened to this as an audio book – and I think the book gained a notch or two of acceptance from me, based on listening to it, rather than reading. The dramatization of the 90-something year old Jankowski recalling his story was very well done, and allowed the ‘reader’ (me) to get caught up in the sweep of the story, ratherthan getting bogged down in the sometimes average prose. The reader as elder Jankowski really seemed to be ancient- curmudgeonly and ill humored.
There are some interesting circus characters: the cheap and brutal circus owner, his paranoid nut case of a menagerie manager, a dwarf with a heart of gold….(as it turns out). And many more. But the best really is Rosie, the elephant of the title, who seems the smartest, gentlest, and grandest creature of them all. Although there is a poignancy evident in the plight of the institutionalized Jankowski, the novel is really just good escapist fun, and is best left at that and enjoyed in that spirit.
By the way. This is the second book in a row (Russo’s Bridge of Sighs) in which, (a) the main character is stuffed nto a trunk, and (b) both parentsof a main character dies in a car crash. Whassup with that?