Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book review: "Water for Elephants"; "True Grit"

Mimi Manderly rec'd this book to me, and I've got to thank her -- what a fabulous start to 2011.

A turbulent love story, a tale of the reality of living under the big top, a fascinating cast of characters who leap off the page, and the most wonderful, enormous heroine ever to come marching along. I was pulled along along to the end -- and what an ending, both in twists and surprises and what may be the beginning to another story altogether. Be warned: you'll probably need a tissue at times, especially in the final third.

If I have any reservations about this book, it's only at the very start. It seemed as if the author just needed an excuse to get our narrator on that Benzini circus train. But aside from that really minor niggle, the entire ride was charming, thrilling, well-paced and tightly written. I don't think any of the characters, particularly the divine Rosie, will ever leave me.

Over at the Vintage Photographs community on LJ, this post arrived just as I was finishing the book. Incredible coincidence.


We saw True Grit last night. Helluva start to our movie-watching for 2011. Last year, my favorite movie was How To Train Your Dragon; I think True Grit will be hard to beat this year. Stellar casting, and it does seem as if the Coen brothers can do no wrong. They surely know how to make a movie. When the credits began to roll, we said we'd see it again right then. It was that good. Right now, B is watching the original, which I have seen approximately one million times.

My grandfather is a great lover of westerns. I watched a lot of them on t.v. with him when I was growing up, and some of the first novels I read were his battered copies of Louis L'amour westerns. The first movie I went to see was Star Wars with my parents and then Clash of the Titans, both times in the back of an old station wagon at the drive-in, with a huge paper grocery bag of popcorn made at home. The first movie I saw at a theater was Pale Rider with my grandpa, and he bought me a bucket of popcorn for myself. For many, Clint Eastwood is a bad ass cop; for me, he is always a bad ass cowboy.

A thousand westerns are playing in my head at this moment; I'm overcome with nostalgia. I wish I was at home, so I could take my grandpa to see True Grit. I'm sure he'd love it.

I realize I haven't been around a lot--I've been working on this novel, which I alternately love and hate. I realized I'd made a big mistake after 10,000 words, and I'm in the process of editing it. It's nearly done, and then I can move on to the parts I really want to write. I will offer this advice to anyone else writing a novel: if you start writing something, realize quickly (in the first two thousand words!) that you've made a mistake, stop. In this case, I knew suddenly that I was writing a cliche storyline of the genre. Instead of chucking it, I stubbornly stuck to it until I had 10,000 words. Then I knew, after a sleepless night, that I had to fix it. New novel, same narrator, different events. I feel a lot better now, even though I also think my stubborness cost me a few weeks. Well, what can you do?

The research for it has been surprisingly fun. At the end of this, I may be able to speak confidently on a specific era in American history. That would be a first for me, LOL. I hate research.

Enough babbling for me. Back to a time when men wore bowler hats and coats with velvet collars, and a trolley car was an amazing sight. How to fit in a cowboy, though...


  1. My grandad was also a big fan of Westerns. In fact, he also made replica gun-belts, chaps, waistcoats etc and sold them to collectors, and also made them for film/tv. When we were children, we played cowboys and Indians in the street, and we were the only kids with full-on, hand-tooled, made-to-measure leather gunbelts, holsters and chaps.

    Also, my dad's grandma went to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show when it came to England in the 1880s. Can you imagine? My dad knew someone who saw Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull in the flesh. I find that incredible. It kind of demonstrates that the past is nowhere near as far away as we think it is.

    I, by the way, fully agree that Clint Eastwood is far better as a cowboy than he is as a cop. Pale Rider is in my top three Westerns ever (the other two are Unforgiven and The Magnificent Seven).

    Have you ever read Lonesome Dove? I haven't, but my mother keeps insisting I must and maintains that it's brilliant.

  2. I did read Lonesome Dove, and it is magnificent and worth your time. But I read it many years ago, before my critical reading skills had been sharpened. Still, I think it was beautiful.

    Unforgiven is also in my top three! I guess I'd put The Man From Snowy River in there to round it out. I think, based on this, that you really should see True Grit.

    We do think of the past, especially before 1900, as being "ancient." Hell, the 60s seem really long ago.

  3. I'm utterly and completely looking forward to True Grit. I just read the book (which was absolutely brilliant), and the Coen Brothers seem the perfect guys to truly adapt that book. If they can do what they did for No Country for Old Men... well, I'll be pretty pleased.

  4. See it as soon as you can! I've heard the book is brilliant, so I'm putting that on the to-read list.

    Some Coen Brothers films have such a distinctive stamp -- think Fargo -- that there is no thinking it's a film by anyone else. In this case, their touch feels more subtle, and they stay true to the original film in many ways. But, honestly, I believe they improved it a thousand-fold.

  5. These seem like awesome recs, looking forward to reading and watching! Westerns, huh? They never really caught my attention, but maybe I should give them a try?

    I find Jo´s comment utterly fascinating.

  6. And I think you´re being amazing with this editing/re-writing/researching business. Beautiful dedication, can´t wait to read =)

    As for me, I have the attention span of a goldfish and my writing goes in all directions. Maybe just a phase, huh?

  7. Good westerns are surprisingly entertaining -- it's like noir or thrillers. If they tell a good story, I'm in. Sometimes genre stuff can fall into certain traps specific to each genre, but there are always examples that rise above.

    I sound like I know waaaaay more than I actually do.

    My attention span was yours last year. Just... I can't explain it. Something clicked into place right after Christmas, and that's it. Read/write novels only. *shrugs*

    Just finished chapter one, finally! Now, a lot more to go.

  8. I've never cared for Westerns, and so when someone recommended Deadwood to me, I put it at the bottom of my Netflix queue, and there it stayed for a long while. Then other people starting telling me that I'd like it, so I had to see what all the fuss was about. They were right; I loved the series! It was witty and gritty, and I began channeling Al Swearengen whenever the telemarketers called! Some great characters in this series!

  9. I think you hit the nail on the head -- what makes Westerns so fabulous is its cast of characters. They tend to be some of the most outrageous people you'll ever fictionally meet, and they stick with you. Sometimes, it seems like fantasy is all about the world-building, and crime/mystery/thriller is about the story/plot, but westerns? Who did we get to meet, LOL! That's the question.

    Al Swearengen in war paint (your make-up). That's what I'm now picturing...

  10. I didn't know there was a new version of True Grit? The original with John Wayne is a classic, but I just googled the new film and the cast does look amazing. I think it's got to be a definite on the list for a night in!

  11. Oh, definitely put it on your list, Deborah! You will not be disappointed, I promise. :-)