Though Water for Elephants made it to the New York Times Bestseller List, it appears to have by virtue of creative storyline since there are weaknesses in Gruen's authorial style techniques. One such weakness, among others, pertains to the logical flow of activity by and amongst the characters. It is that the logic does not flow. One example is when, while asking Marlena where the money is hidden, Jacob breaks free of Earl's grasp and says "Tell me where it is, and I'll get it," while poking his "finger into Earl's chest." Several readings make it clear that Jacob is intentionally making it appear he is doing one thing (arguing with Earl) while actually doing another--which serves to illustrate this authorial style technique, which is a weak one.
Gruen's style is in large part a stripped down approach to storytelling. By this I mean she is sparing with her sparse details, and dialogue does most of the work. For example, in the following passage, the "gaggle of old ladies" never develops beyond a pasteboard semblance of reality, either in the excerpt or elsewhere:
Either there's been a accident or there's roadwork, because a gaggle of old ladies is glued to the window at the end of the hall like children or jailbirds. They're spidery and frail, and their hair as fine as mist. Most of them are a good decade younger than me, and this astound me. Even as your body betrays you, your mind denies it.
The following brief dialogue excerpt serves to illustrate the dominant role dialogue plays in developing both the plot and the characters:
"There's some money in our room. I'll go in when he's not there," she says.
"No. It's not worth the risk," I say.
"I'll be careful."
"Come on, Jacob," says Earl, taking hold of my upper arm. "The boss wants you to move along."
"Give me just a second, Earl," I say.
On a more favorable note pertaining to structure, Gruen interlaces the present-day first-person narrator story of Jacob's life with his near past and with his distant past. This structural juggling Gruen handles well and, one might say, seamlessly.