So I just bought a copy of Water for Elephants online—even though I already read the book a couple of years ago and HATED it. I thought the storyline itself was great and it was obvious that Sara Gruen knew her stuff (i.e. did extensive research). However, I thought the way she set you in the 1930s was too obvious. I felt like I was being hit over the head with it. And that's what rubbed me the wrong way and made me hate it.
As a huge fan of the 1930s—the movies, the books, the music, the culture, the outlaws (I'm obsessed with Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger)—I probably know a lot more about this time period than your average reader. And so, I totally understand that Sara Gruen's writing style is probably not irritating to the millions of people who loved this book. But to this 30s fan, it rankled me big time.
However, as I said before, I think the story itself was great and the characters were wonderful. Also, being a fan of all three leads in the movie version, I went and saw the movie on Friday night. I figured the movie version would be better because they could visually show you the 1930s without overdoing it. And I was right—I enjoyed the movie much more than the book (even though the line about "He hates Ringling Brothers even more than he hates this depression" made me cringe and I'm pretty sure the flag on the big top had 50 stars on it, but I could be wrong).
One of my favorite things to do after watching any movie is to go to IMDb and read all of the goofs and trivia about it. When I did this for Water for Elephants, I found out that Sara Gruen wrote the novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I couldn't help but be impressed. I've never given NaNoWriMo a true try before (because it has to be a new novel, not one you've been working on and I'm still working on one and don't want to start a new one yet), but I can figure out for myself that it's no easy thing to do. Of course, she obviously didn't write the entire 350 page novel in 30 days, but she wrote at least 50,000 words of it.*
I've been wanting to re-read the book so I could give specific examples of why I didn't like Gruen's writing style. Every time I explain to people why I didn't like it, I think I sound like a know-it-all who thinks she's pretty awesome because she knows a lot about the 1930s. And, well, I am and I do. Having forgotten much of the book since I read it in 2008 or 2009, I can't honestly remember the specific passages that drove me crazy. So I figure if I re-read it, I can make note of them and better defend my opinion. But also, now with my new-found respect for Sara Gruen, I might actually enjoy it this time.
We'll see. . . .
*Edit: when I received the book in the mail, it had a little interview with Sara Gruen in it and she never mentioned NaNoWriMo,which is kind of lame. I'd brag about that shit!!