Remarkably Beautiful Creatures

Remarkably Beautiful Creatures

Shelby Van Pelt


Several years ago, I read Sy Montgomery's "The Soul of an Octopus". I had heard that octopuses are intelligent, but it is impossible to read Montgomery's book without being aware of the strong individual personalities they also exhibit. I have never been able to bear the idea of eating such sentient creatures since reading Montgomery's book. I also am inclined now to read any book that features an octopus. No surprise then that I chose to read "Remarkably Bright Creatures" by Shelby Van Pelt when sales slowed enough that I could grab a copy without depriving a customer.

"Remarkably Bright Creatures" is the story of Tova Sullivan, a 70-year-old childless widow, who works after hours at the small Sowell Bay aquarium as a cleaning lady. She is grieving the death of her husband but even more painful is the loss of her son Erik who disappeared in Puget Sound 30 years earlier when he was 18 years old. Tova has never accepted the idea that her son would have killed himself. The lack of resolution has kept the pain of Erik's loss fresh all these years. A second story line involves Cameron, a young man who grew up in California with his aunt after his drug addicted mother left him when he was nine. No one knows who his father was. Cameron is smart, with an almost photographic memory but he can't hold a job or complete any project he gets interested in. Cameron uses his last dollars to fly to Sowell Bay following a possible lead on his father. The overlap of these two story lines is the giant Pacific octopus Marcellus an intelligent curmudgeonly resident of the aquarium who knows more than the humans about the tragedies and mysteries in their lives. Tova befriends Marcellus and introduces him to Cameron when Cameron takes over her cleaning duties.

While this synopsis may sound bleak, the story of these entangled lives is ultimately uplifting and engaging. The novel is interspersed with sections narrated by Marcellus who shares his perceptive and often funny insights on the humans around him. "Remarkably Bright Creatures" has been compared to "A Man Called Ove" by Frederik Bachman. While the book explores the nature of grief and loss it is also about the saving grace of friendships that arrive in unexpected ways.

"Remarkably Bright Creatures" is a Read With Jenna Today Show Book Club pick.