Crissy Van Meter’s vivid and moving debut, is a novel powered by atmosphere ... The characters are as complex and explosive as the setting ... As Creatures unfolds, Van Meter subverts narrative expectations by making long and frequent digressions away from the compelling present, pre-wedding story line, to reveal either the past or future ... eventually this structure begins to sway under its own weight. The glimpses into the future beyond Evie’s wedding day expand the novel’s scope in interesting and unexpected ways. Yet these sections tend to emphasize certain emotional notes—fractured love, enduring loneliness, self-doubt—to the point of redundancy ... At times, inevitability begins to outstrip surprise, and feeling is more reported than animated ... In its rendering of Winter Island, though—of sea-soaked splendor and terror and rage—Van Meter’s debut is an unwavering triumph. Equally dazzling is the novel’s emotional ballast ... For all the novel’s visual description, then, it’s Van Meter’s perceptive eye for this—the unseen—that makes for a coming-of-age that’s as human as it is wild.
She's a memorable character, and Creatures, Van Meter's excellent debut novel, is a beautiful look at how we navigate the pain and heartbreak that comes with being human ... Creatures jumps back and forth in time, with chapters exploring Evie's childhood and ones taking place after her marriage to the fisherman ... This narrative technique works spectacularly well — by rejecting a strictly linear storyline, Van Meter seems to highlight that lives don't happen in a straight line; we're all a collection of past and present, and we never really escape what's happened to us years ago ... Van Meter also displays a real talent for crafting characters that feel real, with impulses both good and bad, and the capacity to love and to hurt ... frequently heartbreaking, but never mawkish ... Van Meter is a wonderful writer, and her novel is so beautifully written, it's somewhat surprising that it's a debut. Creatures is a gift of a book
... a novel that aims to both beguile with its lyricism and hit hard with a sense of human ferality. Impressively, she largely pulls it off ... The mood of the novel, especially in the later chapters, is dominated by loss and betrayal ... The sensibility of this short, gemlike novel puts Van Meter, a SoCal native and former surf editor at ESPN, in league with contemporary novelists for whom humans and their environment are tightly bound together—Lydia Millet, Joy Williams and T.C. Boyle come to mind. And Creatures is studded with lovely, melancholy sentences that shimmer like dark sea glass ... Van Meter can also press too hard to stress the sweet-and-sour nature of Evie’s youth, though. The novel’s spell is occasionally broken by purple sentences...or biology factoids awkwardly pushed into metaphorical service ... But in Evie’s closest relationships—with her parents and her husband—Van Meter beautifully evokes the challenge of loving somebody in spite of themselves or yourself ... Creatures delivers a powerful feeling that we, like Evie, are destined to always feel at least a little adrift.
... [a] moody sucker punch of a debut ... the marooned whale is just one of the evocative, often pungent images, scenes or phrases the author invokes to grab the reader’s attention. While not all of her attempts are equally successful, the book works as a kaleidoscopic narrative full of bewitching nooks and crannies, with a unique structure that is unexpected, messy and inspired all at the same time ... One of the most impressive things about Creatures is Van Meter’s clear command of setting and its impact on the characters ... Though certainly affecting, [in] the sections devoted to her years with Liam...the tone verges on overwrought. A little subtlety here might go a long way ... In contrast, the chapters covering Evie’s childhood and her misadventures with her drug-selling, alcoholic, ne’er-do-well father as they camp in the frigid cold are heartbreaking yet so vividly described that they capture the pulse of the entire book ... With its quirky structure,Creatures might not be for everyone. It’s also relentlessly dark. But for others, Van Meter’s first foray into fiction is as impressive as it is unorthodox — tenacious, wildly original and full of insight.
The ocean and its cetacean residents are a constant presence throughout the narrative, as Van Meter marks section breaks with titles like 'Tsunami' and 'Wind,' and utilizes Evie’s work as a marine mammal researcher to spotlight the lessons to be gained from studying whale behavior. In fluid and nutrient-rich prose, Van Meter creates a sense of island life that will have even the most dedicated landlubbers tasting salt on their lips.
... the expected tensions avoid predictable resolutions ... In every part, Crissy Van Meter balances fracture and fusion and navigates Evangeline’s story with exquisite, racking grace. Particularly moving are the research notes from Evangeline’s job at the Sea Institute; they interrupt the narrative and become spaces wherein the story of her pain is distant enough to approach ... Meter’s bold debut novel is stamped with a signature, polymetric tension all its own.
The writing in [many] sections glows with immediacy, though the Q-and-A conceit, like much of the novel’s marine motif, feels superfluous. Still, by mimicking the arbitrary leaps and obsessions of memory, Creature’s nonlinear structure seizes on moments of joy and pain, merging the clinical scrutiny of hindsight with the emotional urgency of a past that still feels present ... At the same time, the novel never seems to know what to do with Evie’s parents as characters. Her mother especially remains half-realized, her reasons and desires always out of reach. Perhaps this is by design ... Elsewhere, though, Evie’s mother seems like a bad-mom caricature ... Creatures is best when it’s showing us how Evie’s relationships with her parents inform the bonds she makes with others ... It’s the rare novel that understands and articulates how the patterns of childhood map our adult lives, and the insight Creatures offers into these dynamics makes the reading experience feel not unlike being privy to the notes of a superb therapist—compelling and excruciating in equal parts.
The novel’s structure is intriguing and unusual, but it can be hard to follow ... filled with evocative writing, particularly in the descriptions of the natural landmarks familiar to Evie, which witness essential moments in her growing up. Likewise, Evie’s first-person narration is vivid and close, although some scenes, and some of the novel’s other characters, seem underdeveloped. For instance, I wanted more of a sense of Evie’s friend Rook and Rook’s son Tommy, and a clearer sense about Evie’s dad’s early death ... Still, with its beautiful writing and redemptive ending, Creatures is an imaginative, atmospheric debut.
Both lyrical and succinct, Creatures is acutely immersed in its setting. Van Meter transports the reader to Winter Island, capturing not only the volatile and brutal nature of the ocean, but the wonder and awe of it, too. The author’s grip on this physical space, together with the distinctiveness of Evie’s voice, allows for daring temporal leaps through the narrator’s life. Though the shifts in time in conjunction with Evie’s research notes can prove jarring and feel at times a bit performative, on the whole Van Meter is able to master this complicated structure for a powerful story.
Van Meter’s first-person debut novel is driven by the natural world of tsunamis, earthquakes, heat, hail, and wildfires, always with an overarching presence of the sea creatures surrounding the island. A compelling coming-of-age tale.
... will inspire a conflicting range of responses ... staccatos across time in disorienting style...And yet, when the sentences come quick and fast and painful, they cut like knives and capture the reader’s attention ... isn’t a novel for readers who savor a plot-driven, forward-moving tale...But there are moments in the story when kindness and grace and forgiveness take over. And they are unforgettably moving.
... flash-forward chapters are some of the most emotionally affecting, as Evie is compelled to wrestle with the question of whether or not being raised where she was, by the kind of parents she had, has made it impossible for her to truly open herself up to another person. ... Throughout, Van Meter’s beautifully written descriptions of Winter Island help ground Evie’s story in a specific place and will inspire thoughtful considerations of the intersections of setting and character.
... spiky, elliptical ... Some of the most heartbreaking moments in this novel are the most simply told, and there are scenes of beauty and magic and dry humor amid the chaos. And Evie is self-aware enough to acknowledge her own complexities and shortcomings ... A quietly captivating debut.
Van Meter’s tender and atmospheric debut is a portrait of a young woman’s hard upbringing amid an edenic setting ... Van Meter expertly and effortlessly brings to life at once her father’s substance abuse and dependence, his doting love for his daughter and loyalty to her absent mother, and his inability to be what Evie needs. His deep mark on Evie’s life, and her feelings toward him, are the book’s beating heart. Despite some unnecessary structural flourishes in the form of essay-prompts and themed-chapter sections, this promising debut sneaks up on the reader, packing a devastating emotional punch.