Are circus books preternaturally good? I’m thinking of Geek Love, and this one, but I’m sure there are others. So yeah, this book that everyone has been buzzing in my ear to read, it’s a quality story. Jacob is a 93 year old man reliving his glory days when a circus sets up shop right beside his retirement home.
Studying to become a vet in 1931 at Cornell, Jacob learns his parents are killed when their car is run off the road, 6 days before finals. He blankly looks at the final test, then takes a blisteringly long walk, ending up jumping onto a passing train to get back to town and finds himself having hitched a ride on the circus express.
Jacob befriends a few other workers, Camel who becomes paralyzed by drinking “jake” and whom Jacob cares for, the dwarf Walter, and a few others who have his back. Jacob is taken on board the circus as the Ivy-League trained vet, and begins his complicated relationship with August and Marlena.
Title of the book comes from something a fellow retirement home patient brags about, that he used to carry water for the elephants back in the day. Jacob calls the man a liar, since no one carried water to the elephants since they drank so much.
One of the only artistic touches of the book was the repetition of the beginning scene where August is murdered, only later it is told with the details of which person did the killing (Rosie the elephant, not Marlena as we’re lead to believe).
The circus eventually takes Jacob back, in his frail and elderly frame. He’s a legend, having been on hand during the stampede of 1931.