Remarkably Bright Creatures

A capsule review of Shelby Van Pelt’s novel Remarkably Bright Creatures: this book is an absolute charmer.

Like others who have reviewed it or discussed it, I’m going to start with the octopus, because, after all, he starts the book. Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus who lives in captivity in a small aquarium in the small Pacific Northwest town in which the book is set. Marcellus is very smart, very observant and speaks excellent English, so there’s no reason in the world why this book should not open with him addressing us in first person, and sharing his point of view about the various humans he knows.

Marcellus is a smart creature (although he resents being called a “smart cookie”), and he is aware of his own mortality–in fact, he is counting down the months and weeks of his lifespan. This doesn’t stop him from regularly escaping from his tank and wandering the aquarium, which is how he makes the personal acquaintance of Tova, who cleans the place after hours. Marcellus has watching Tova for a long time, but now the two become… well, friends.

Tova has her own issues, and her own circle of human friends. At the core of her life is a devastating mystery–how and why did her eighteen-year-old son disappear, thirty years ago? Tova, a reserved woman, holds her grief and many other fears close to herself, until events begin to unfold that she can’t control. Meanwhile, a smart but adrift young man, Cameron, journeys north from Stockton, enduring a series of small catastrophes that might set some kind of a new record for bad luck and bad decisions. Fortunately, Ethan, a friendly shopkeeper who is secretly in love with Tova, lends Cameron a helping hand… and things spiral from there in a book that is warm, profound, sometimes sad, often funny and deeply hopeful.

Pick it up for the octopus, stay for the loving and lovely descriptions of small-town lives and the way we make connections.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *