Summary and book reviews of Aquarium by David Vann

Aquarium

by David Vann

Aquarium by David Vann X
Aquarium by David Vann
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Book Summary

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.

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.

I found him at the darkest tank, in a corner, alone, peering into what could have been a window to the stars, endless black and cold and only a few points of light. Hung in this void like a small constellation, the ghost pipefish, impossible.

Like a leaf giving birth to stars, I said, whispering, as if any sound might make the fish vanish.

Yes, the old man whispered back. Exactly that. I couldn't have said it better myself. Sometimes Ican't believe you're only twelve. You should become an ichthyologist. This is who you are.

Body of small green leaves, veined, very thin, its fins painted in light cast from elsewhere, but from his eye out his long snout, an eruption of galaxies without foreign source, born in the fish itself. An opening in the small fabric of the world, a place to fall into endlessly.

He's my favorite fish, I said, still whispering. I ask everyone what their favorite fish is, and I always hope they'll say the ghost pipefish.

Well he's my favorite...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Vann is aware and appreciative of his readers, and by allowing them moments to breathe, he makes his drama much more potent. In turn, the reader has the space to think more about it. Aquarium is utterly unforgettable.   (Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Full Review (567 words).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review

Cinematic...Aquarium is a genuine departure for Vann, an authentically new direction...Its delicate, coming-of-age sensuality and bright saltwater menagerie.

Entertainment Weekly

Gripping, painful, but ultimately hopeful, Aquarium is a coming-of-age story that explores the limits of love and forgiveness. Vann submerges you so deeply in Caitlin’s world, you’ll be gasping for breath when you finally surface. A

The Chicago Tribune

The photographs throughout the text, along with the turquoise capital letters that begin each chapter and mark the author's name and book title on every creamy, thick page, reminded me that no electronic reader could provide this tactile and visual experience...suspenseful …at times, this is a painful novel, but its beauty propels it toward redemption.

Publishers Weekly

Through [Caitlin's] wise and dreamy vision, Vann crafts a moving exploration of the boundaries we draw around ourselves to stay safe and unchanged

Kirkus Reviews

A kind of modern fairy tale...Unlike Vann's other novels, which exist in a closed system of violence and despair, this story offers redemption...Vann's novels are striking, uncompromising portraits of American life; here is another exceptional example.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Since electrifying the literary world five years ago with his debut novel, Legend of a Suicide, Vann has racked up an astonishing number of international awards. This lovely, wrenching novel should add to that list.

Booklist

Starred Review. By pulling no punches in this explicit exploration of family, forgiveness, duty, acceptance, parent-child relationships, and what constitutes abuse, Vann has outdone himself.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

Another excellent offering from David Vann.
“Like a leaf giving birth to stars………..Body of small green leaves, veined, very thin, its fins painted in light cast from elsewhere, but from his eye out his long snout, an eruption of galaxies without foreign source, born in the fish itself. An ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Aquariums

A couple of thousand years B.C., the Chinese were building fish pens in lakes (for food and possibly entertainment), and evidence of Roman fish tanks in the sea still exist (such as the fish tank that can still be seen a little north of Rome). But building containers to showcase the fish away from their natural surroundings had many challenges that would remain largely insurmountable until the 19th century.

The Roman Empire had aquariums of sorts - small marble tanks, stocked with such fish as the poisonous-spined sea barbel. Then, during the last century B.C. and first century A.D., glass manufacturing in Europe went through a number of major step changes, including the discovery...

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