After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago. Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors—until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.
Van Pelt’s sharp-eyed invertebrate has an unbelievable (but wonderful) ability to grasp connections that others fail to see ... Marcellus’ wry, curmudgeonly point of view is conveyed in short journal-like remarks interspersed throughout this otherwise third person narrative ... requires a willingness to throw disbelief overboard. The various narrative strands entwine somewhat improbably, though not as improbably as a literate octopus’ skill at detective work. But if you can swim with it, Van Pelt has spawned a heartwarming tale about the importance of reaching out with open arms to make meaningful connections. I’m a sucker for happy endings, and this one, which brings a group of lonely outsiders into the equivalent of a big, communal hug, has considerable charm.
Tova’s gentle relationship with Marcellus is the heart of Van Pelt’s debut. The octopus’ point of view, though unusual, brings a magical haze to the novel, even as Tova and Marcellus realize their story is coming to an end. A unique and luminous book for fans of Eleanor Ray’s The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton (2021).
Marcellus—a thief, escape artist with a mission, and brilliant observer of human behavior—narrates his chapters with a whip-smart wit born of his nine brains, three hearts, and the impatient urgency of wanting to help his beloved Tova before his time runs out ... Poet and short story writer Van Pelt has written an irresistibly wonderful, warm, funny, heartbreaking first novel, full of gentle people (and one octopus) bravely powering through their individual scars left by lives that have beaten them up but have not brought them down.