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  • Jake Bonham

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Tova Sullivan is a recently widowed septuagenarian who focuses on “staying busy” by working the after-hours cleaning shift at the local aquarium. Tova’s grief over losing her husband is compounded by the memory of her son, who disappeared in the waters of Puget Sound 30 years ago.

Cameron Cassmore is a perpetual screw-up, bouncing from job to job and relationship to relationship for his entire “adult” life. Raised by his aunt and resenting his addict mother and non-existent father, Cameron is searching for connection and validation.

And Marcellus is a uniquely intelligent giant Pacific octopus with an affinity for fingerprints, “treasures”, and escaping from his tank at the aquarium. No one is more surprised than Marcellus when he realizes he holds secrets about Tova and Cameron that would change both of their lives forever.

How the paths of Marcellus, Tova and Cameron are intertwined is the lightly intriguing mystery that drives the action forward in Shelby Van Pelt’s story and things certainly get off to a pleasant and engaging start. Van Pelt’s characterizations are clearly her strong suit, as she does a great job of establishing unique and well-rounded voices for each of her characters, slowly building their emotional depth and revealing their motivations in ways that feel organic and true.

Unfortunately, the mystery that Van Pelt has established isn’t one that can sustain itself for the almost 400 pages she has written and by the second half of the book, scenes and details that feel like filler are littering the pages. Even the novelty of an occasionally narrating octopus loses its shine. While the book’s resolution is satisfactory, I couldn’t help but feel as though it could have come 60 pages earlier without causing any damage to my enjoyment of the story. If you’re in the mood for a unique narrative perspective or a lighthearted mystery, then certainly give this one a try. Otherwise, I’d suggest wrapping your tentacles around something else.

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