Aquarium by David Vann

aquariumLike Melville, Faulkner, and McCarthy, Vann is already one of the great ones of American literature.”—ABC(Spain)

“Vann’s prose is as pure as a gulp of water from an Alaskan stream.”—Financial Times

David Vann’s dazzling debut Legend of a Suicide was reviewed in over a 150 major global publications, won 11 prizes worldwide, was on 40 “best books of the year” lists, and established its author as a literary master. Since then, Vann has delivered an exceptional body of work, receiving, among others, best foreign novel in France and Spain (France’s Prix Medicis Etranger, Spain’s Premi Llibreter), a California Book Award, and the mid-career St. Francis College Literary Prize. Aquarium, his implosive new book and first to be published by Grove, will take Vann to a wider audience than ever before.

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.

In crystalline, chiseled yet graceful prose, Aquarium takes us into the heart of a brave young girl whose longing for love and capacity for forgiveness transforms the damaged people around her. Relentless and heartbreaking, primal and redemptive, Aquarium is a transporting story from one of the best American writers of our time.” – Goodreads

In the 1990’s, twelve-year-old Caitlin and her mother, Sheri, are living in a tiny Seattle apartment. Sheri works long hours as a manual laborer and because of this, the two thrive on routine. They wake early, Caitlin always arriving at school long before the other students. After school, because they can’t afford sports or after-school activities, Caitlin frequents the local aquarium for a few hours until Sheri is able to pick her up after work. This isn’t a problem for Caitlin, who loves the marine life and in fact yearns to become an ichthyologist as an adult. Eventually, Caitlin is befriended by an elderly man who also enjoys the fish and the two develop a friendship. When the man expresses his desire to meet Caitlin’s mother, she is more than happy to tell Sheri about her fish-loving friend – and unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that will reveal long-held family secrets that will forever change Caitlin, Sheri, and the relationship between the two of them.

Aquarium by David Vann is a simple but beautifully crafted coming-of-age tale of family, forgiveness, and self-discovery. Vann’s powerful and emotionally-charged writing is sure to touch readers at a personal level. The raw emotion and anger of Sheri is palpable as we move further through the tale, as is Caitlin’s naivety and hope. There is such a sweetness to the innocence of Caitlin’s first experience with love. While I loved Caitlin, I adored the elderly gentleman; his quiet stoicism and determination. I don’t want to reveal any more about this novel than I have already, but suffice it to say that he stole my heart without even having to try.

I read Aquarium on my Kindle Paperwhite, however, I’m told that the print novel is absolutely beautiful. The blurry black-and-white photos that my eReader displayed are apparently gorgeous, full-color gems in print. For a sneak peek at what they look like, check out this review. I have read another book of David Vann’s, Goat Mountain, and the two novels are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s almost as though Aquarium is an apology for the stark familial destruction of Goat Mountain… It certainly touched me in a far different manner than the previous novel had. Aquarium has easily hit my Top 5 of 2015 so far. Don’t miss the chance to add it to yours.

Aquarium by David Vann: available at a bookseller near you on March 3, 2013!

4 stars

Source: Grove Atlantic {via NetGalley}

 

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