Water for Elephants
IT'S the depths of the Depression in America, and our hero, Jacob, is just about to qualify as a vet when his parents are killed in a road crash.
Shocked at the discovery that his father's veterinary business is about to go bang, Jacob runs away with the circus. As you do.
In this pleasant fantasy, he enters a world of star-crossed love, adventure with the bums and the weirdos and the elephants, and everything every kid ever dreamed of about the life under canvas.
It's like a book written from a template, with a satisfyingly unstable villain, an ideal woman, etc.
The poor are always with us, in the form of an alcoholic who is paralysed by 'jake' - Jamaican Ginger, an ethyl alcohol product made popular by Prohibition in much the same way that cut heroin and cocaine poison people today.
Jacob bumbles through the story, checking the boxes: cruelty to animals, yes (beaten-up elephant); boyish adventures, yes (rompish prostitutes); bravery in adversity, yes (he faces down the villain, tries to help all, becomes a vet after all…)
But there's absolutely no genuine sense of the Depression. It's all research, with conflict and action fed into the mix. The result is a book that's as much fun as a big box of chocolates, and about as nourishing to the spirit.