"It was a fish so ugly it didn't seem to be a fish at all."
Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives alone with her mother—a docker at the local container port—in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamored of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence.
I was not expecting this one to be a favorite of mine for the year. I haven't heard of David Vann before but the cover leads me to believe he is someone to know with multiple blurbs of praise. I'll have to go back and check out some of his other work. Aquarium is beautiful and tragic, a combination that always interests me. Even though that might sound like an overused phrase, this book is very unique and I really would have trouble comparing it with anything else. The most unique part about it was the beautiful images of fish, each given at the perfect point in the story with the perfect description. You know how sometimes the pictures used in books match up only "slightly" to the text? This one is a perfect match, Vann selected these pictures and must have sat down and analyzed what he thought a 12 year old girl would say about them.
The Aquarium is the backdrop for a story that goes relatively deep into family strife, vulnerability and trust. The daughter has this warm relationship with her mother, very trusting (mainly because she is the only family she has). When her life opens up to the possibility of more, things become strained. The one word that came to mind throughout this book was empathy... and fairness. Caitlin's mother wants her to empathize with her so badly that she pushes her daughter away, in the meantime... she can't seem to do the same for her father. There is a vicious cycle of wants/needs and you just want to shout at everyone to "wake the F up" and smell what the other is cooking. Vann says it best with this one quote, "One life can never know another's."
As poetic and beautifully written as this book was, I had a hard time in certain parts of the book (which will be left unspoken), especially when I have dealt with similar situations growing up. I was able to sympathize with Caitlin so much that I ended up hating everyone else. I'm sure most readers will agree that the likability of everyone isn't the point. Don't let that sidetrack you from the real message here... one that you'll discover when you read it.
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