Aquarium; David Vann
Atlantic Monthly Press - March 2015
Aquarium is an addictive read that hooked me early on, shocked me as the story progressed and made me wonder whether emotionally wounded individuals can ever truly heal.
The story opens in 1990's Seattle, where 12-year-old Caitlin lives in a tiny apartment with her mother Sheri. Sheri works long hours at the local container port to support the two of them. Together their life has been built on routine. They wake early, have breakfast, and then mom rushes off to work and Caitlin goes to school. She is always the first kid to arrive at school. Mom works overtime whenever possible, and Caitlin goes to the "aquarium" after school until her mother is done with work. This arrangement was cheaper than childcare, but Caitlin doesn't mind, she loves her time spent at the aquarium, and is fascinated by all of the exotic fish she visits with each day. She hopes to study the science of fish when she gets older. When day is done sometimes Caitlin and her mom collapse together or talk briefly, unless Sheri has her boyfriend over, and then Caitlin is off to her room.
One day Caitlin befriends an elderly man at the aquarium, the two talk about the fish. Soon every time she goes to the aquarium, the man is there as well and soon they begin to talk about more than just fish. Caitlin likes the man and is unafraid, so when he asks a favor of her, she thinks nothing of telling her mother. No way could Caitlin have anticipated how her mother would react, and the horrific consequences that would result as a result of the situation which has been set in motion. The mother/daughter relationship will forever be changed.
I loved everything about this simple, but well crafted story. Caitlin is such a strong, and brave young girl. She's smart, inquisitive and longs to be loved. Despite the situation over which she has no control, she displays a childlike determination to make things right.
The book contains lovely color photographs of exotic fish which is such a nice touch. Readers who enjoy stories about dysfunctional childhoods or coming of age stories, this is one of the best of its kind that I've read in a long time. Be prepared to be shocked! A word of caution -- a few reviews out there give away some significant spoilers, do yourself a favor, and just dive in, too much detail will spoil the experience for you. So far this is my favorite read of 2015.