Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Every night Tova works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning floors and picking up trash. She doesn’t really need the income, but she likes to keep busy. Her son Erik died 30 years ago under mysterious circumstances when he was just 18 and her husband Will died a few years ago from cancer. It is here, at the Aquarium, that she finds quiet and solace and some purpose, a balm to her loneliness in Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

Marcellus is a Giant Pacific octopus that has spent most of his life in the Sowell Bay Aquarium. He is very smart, very observant and very clever. Now close to end of his life (octopus live for only 4 or 5 years), Marcellus amuses himself by escaping his tank to make brief visits to other areas of the complex (and help himself to tasty critters in the other tanks)

One night Tova is startled to find the octopus in the staff room, tangled up in electrical cords. Carefully she frees him from the wires and helps him return to his tank. The escape remains their little secret and a friendship is born. Of course, Marcellus can’t talk to her, but he responds to her presence and emerges from his usual hiding place when she stops to talk to him. He knows that she is sad and lonely and he wishes he could help her.

One day Cameron walks into their lives. Adrift and a bit lost, an aimless young man trying to get his life on track. His father died before he was born and his mother abandoned him when he was nine, so his only family is an elderly aunt. He takes a job at the aquarium and Tova eventually takes him under her wing. Marcellus realizes immediately that there is a connection between these two. He just somehow needs to let them know too.

This is an utterly charming book. It is also a heartfelt examination of grief, connection, the importance of family and an acceptance of the march of time and preparing for your own end. This is sobering, of course, but it is the way of all living creatures, and the practical and loving ways the characters take care of themselves and of those that will live on is hopeful and uplifting. Marcellus’ thoughts (which appear in separate chapters) are shrewd and his opinions about the humans are funny and insightful. You will learn a lot about octopus’ and you will fall in love with Marcellus.

Highly recommended.

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