The novel, Aquarium, by David Vann is a novel that takes place in 1994, and is narrated by a twelve-year old girl named Caitlin Thompson.
Caitlin lives alone with her mother, Sheri, in a small apartment. There are just the two of them, and her mother is a hardworking single mother. When Sheri comes home from work she just wants to flop on the bed. And, at times, Caitlin flops down with her.
Sheri can’t afford child care, so Caitlin spends her after school hours at the Seattle Aquarium. It was less expensive to buy a season pass, than pay for child care for Caitlin who is not legally allowed to be home alone.
While at tne aquarium one afternoon, she meets an elderly man. He begins speaking to her regarding the fish they are looking at. This interaction continues each day after school, and a friendship begins to form between the two of them. She trusts him, completely, and is not afraid of him. Eventually, he tells Caitlin he would like a favor of her-he wants to meet her mother.
Once the meeting takes place, trouble begins. ‘Trouble’ is actually an understatement and putting it mildly. I must admit that I was shocked at Sheri’s behavior, after she sees the elderly man. I was horrified regarding her actions.
Enough, if I go on any longer, I will give the story line away.
I found Vann’s writing to be lovely when he was writing about the aquarium, and the fish and other sea life that live within the aquarium environment. His word-images were beautifully written. They were masterfully crafted images that illuminated aquarium life. I have been to aquariums several times recently, and I could visualize what his writing depicted.
I also was captivated by how Caitlin compared her daily life to an aquarium. Her apartment was her aquarium, her bedroom, her school, every facet of her life was an analogy to an aquarium. It was an interesting concept.
For me, the novel was a metaphor for survival, not only survival of sea life, but survival of individuals within an environment of hardship and adversity. Single mothers with little education have a difficult time tying all ends together in order to provide shelter, food and clothing for their child/ren. Within the pages, this becomes a primary issue.
As a whole, I was not overly happy with the story. Aquarium is a dark and haunting novel, and not one that I found to be a positive read (other than the word-images of aquarium life). Yes, it is true, Caitlin was a sweet girl, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy me.