Excerpt from Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Remarkably Bright Creatures

A Novel

by Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt X
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 368 pages

    Jan 2, 2024, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt

Day 1,299 of My Captivity


Each evening, I await the click of the overhead lights, leaving only the glow from the main tank. Not perfect, but close enough.

Almost-darkness, like the middle-bottom of the sea. I lived there before I was captured and imprisoned. I cannot remember, yet I can still taste the untamed currents of the cold open water. Darkness runs through my blood.

Who am I, you ask? My name is Marcellus, but most humans do not call me that. Typically, they call me that guy. For example: Look at that guy—there he is—you can just see his tentacles behind the rock.

I am a giant Pacific octopus. I know this from the plaque on the wall beside my enclosure.

I know what you are thinking. Yes, I can read. I can do many things you would not expect.

The plaque states other facts: my size, preferred diet, and where I might live were I not a prisoner here. It mentions my intellectual prowess and penchant for cleverness, which for some reason seems a surprise to humans: Octopuses are remarkably bright creatures, it says. It warns the humans of my camouflage, tells them to take extra care in looking for me in case I have disguised myself to match the sand.

The plaque does not state that I am named Marcellus. But the human called Terry, the one who runs this aquarium, sometimes shares this with the visitors who gather near my tank. See him back there? His name's Marcellus. He's a special guy.

A special guy. Indeed.

Terry's small daughter chose my name. Marcellus McSquiddles, in full. Yes, it is a preposterous name. It leads many humans to assume I am a squid, which is an insult of the worst sort.

How shall you refer to me, you ask? Well, that is up to you. Perhaps you will default to calling me that guy, like the rest of them. I hope not, but I will not hold it against you. You are only human, after all.

I must advise you that our time together may be brief. The plaque states one additional piece of information: the average life span of a giant Pacific octopus. Four years.

My life span: four years—1,460 days.

I was brought here as a juvenile. I shall die here, in this tank. At the very most, one hundred and sixty days remain until my sentence is complete.

The Silver-Dollar Scar

Tova Sullivan prepares for battle. A yellow rubber glove sticks up from her back pocket like a canary's plume as she bends over to size up her enemy.

Chewing gum.

"For heaven's sake." She jabs at the pinkish blob with her mop handle. Layers of sneaker tread emboss its surface, speckling it with grime.

Tova has never understood the purpose of chewing gum. And people lose track of it so often. Perhaps this chewer was talking, ceaselessly, and it simply tumbled out, swept away by a slurry of superfluous words.

She bends over and picks at the edge of the mess with her fingernail, but it doesn't budge from the tile. All because someone couldn't walk ten feet to the trash bin. Once, when Erik was young, Tova caught him mashing a piece of bubble gum under a diner table. That was the last time she bought bubble gum for him, although how he spent his allowance as adolescence set in was, like so much else, beyond her control.

Specialized weaponry will be necessary. A file, perhaps. Nothing on her cart will pry up the gum.

As she stands, her back pops. The sound echoes down the empty curve of the hallway, bathed in its usual soft blue light, as she journeys to the supply closet. No one would fault her, of course, for passing over the blob of gum with her mop. At seventy years old, they don't expect her to do such deep cleaning. But she must, at least, try.

Besides, it's something to do.

TOVA IS SOWELL BAY AQUARIUM'S oldest employee. Each night, she mops the floors, wipes down the glass, and empties the trash bins. Every two weeks, she retrieves a direct-deposit stub from her cubby in the break room. Fourteen dollars an hour, less the requisite taxes and deductions.

Excerpted from Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. Copyright © 2022 by Shelby Van Pelt. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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