Often, when I’m well into a really good novel, thirty or forty pages from the end, eager to find out how the author will tie up the multiple story threads she (or he) has spooled out in the early chapters, I pause, saving the denouement for the perfect reading moment
I purchased Shelby Van Pelt’s REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES at Fair Isle Books & Gifts (one of my two favorite book shops)* on Washington Island, WI, on a Wednesday afternoon, on my way from the ferry dock to our vacation cottage over on the east side, opened it the next day, and read steadily.
By Friday, when family members arrived to attend a memorial service for Valerie Fons, my former sister-in-law and oldest friend, I had reached that sweet spot in Van Pelt’s delightful debut. Tova Sullivan, the story’s 70-year-old protagonist, had become my friend. So had Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living out his life in a glass tank in the Sowell Bay Aquarium (where Tova cleans nightly) in the fictitious small town of Sowell Bay, Washington. (Tova saved Marcellus’ life on Page 8, and their relationship had grown from there.) Thirty-year-old Cameron Cassmore, another primary character, had made one poor decision after another in chapter after chapter, but seemed to be turning his life around. The mystery surrounding the death of Tova’s son Erik decades ago was on its way to being solved.
I could have excused myself from my houseful of guests, holed up somewhere, and read my way to the end, but I set the book aside.
On Saturday, I was absorbed in my late, longtime friend’s memorial service, my daughters’ and other friends’ and family members’ memories of an avid reader, writer, athlete (who set several kayaking records), and mother. After the service and before the funeral dinner, we walked the short distance from the church to Schoolhouse Beach. An elite kayaker put his boat in and paddled a wreath of white roses and orchids out into the lake. He tossed some of Valerie’s ashes into the air. They sparkled in the sunlight as they drifted onto the water.
By the time my family and I returned home, I was not feeling good for much, but there was REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES, resting on an end table, my bookmark between Pages 308 and 309.
I tucked the book under my arm, positioned a lawn chair beneath a tree in the back yard, and with sunlight dappling through the branches, Lake Michigan lapping the shore, I reentered the lives of Tova, Marcellus, Cameron, Avery, and the other colorful, believable characters Van Pelt created. As I hoped it would, REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES satisfied my story-loving soul, and even more, made me glad to be a member of the human race.
Van Pelt is one of the authors who will be featured at this year’s Washington Island Literary Festival, September 21-23. She’ll conduct a workshop, “Unusual Voices, Odd Perspectives” on Friday, September 21, and will participate in Saturday’s author panel at Trueblood Performing Arts Center. I’m sure she’ll read an excerpt from her excellent debut, and I hope she will describe what she’s working on now. To register for this year’s literary festival, click here.
*My other favorite book shop is Brick Road Books in Winterset, Iowa.