Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Read Water for Elephants, Listen to Devil Baby, Call 1-800-IMA FREAK

I'm almost finished with Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen and am loving it. One of the things that I like about it is that the characters are refreshingly far from stereotypical. I don't read too many best-sellers, but this deserves the accolades it has received. The story alternates unevenly between the main character, Jacob Jankowski, as an old man in a nursing home and a young man coming of age in a two-bit train circus in the 1930's. Unevenly because the old man's story intrudes just when the tension of the young man's story gets so high that it's unsustainable. I love it. Gruen's handling of the two stories is masterful. I cannot wait to see how it turns out!

A few years ago, my brother Stewart introduced me to Mark Knopfler's Devil Baby on his The Ragpicker's Dream CD. I have listened to this song hundreds of times over the years, and it's been running through my head pretty constantly these past few days while I've been reading about Jacob and Marlena, August, Walter and Queenie, and the rest of Uncle Al's misfits and miscreants who work for the BENZINI BROS MOST SPECTACULAR SHOW ON EARTH.

Devil Baby by Mark Knopfler
The freaks'll stay together
They're a tight old crew
You look at them
And they look at you
I love the ballyhoo girl
But she don't care
It's hard to find love anywhere
Hard to find love anywhere

The professor is the talker
He's the talking man
And if he can't clean a midway
Nobody can
He'll get the tip on in
From the midway mud
You gotta have the sawdust in the blood
Gotta have the sawdust in the blood

See the pig-faced man and the monkey girl
Come see the big fat lady
'Gator slim with the alligator skin
Come see the devil baby

Springer is the talker
He's the talking man
He's got the whole studio
Eating out of his hand
You can be on too
With the nuts and the geeks
Call 1-800-IMA FREAK

Be the pig-faced man or the monkey girl
Come be the big fat lady
'Gator slim with the alligator skin
Come be the devil baby

Be the pig-faced man or the monkey girl
Come be the big fat lady
'Gator slim with the alligator skin
Come be the devil baby


  1. 'Water for Elephants' came up on our reading group list about a year ago and I really wasn't looking forward to reading it, but like you, ending up thinking it was a very fine novel. Certainly, it provoked one of the best discussion we had all year. It was interesting how our reactions differed according to what we felt about the whole concept of the circus.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Ann. This would be an excellent book club book. I only went to a circus once as a child and have long felt that they abuse animals and personally I would be fine with never stepping in a midway again, but the historical aspect of Water for Elephants intrigued me a lot.

    I certainly respect the research that Gruen did, and she is a terrific storyteller. I'm going to have to check out her other books as well.