Book Review: Fishbowl by Bradley Somer

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Every month, I visit my nearest independent book store  (Book Beat in Southfield, Nicola’s Books and Literati Book Store in Ann Arbor, and both Brilliant Books and Horizon Books when I’m in Traverse City) to pick up the Indie Next List by IndieBound.  I’ve come to rely on this monthly guide, finding good reads, such as The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (January, ’15), Alphabet by Kathy Page (December, ’14), The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (March, ’14), The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka (February, ’14), and Stop Here by Beverly Gologorsky (December, ’13) to name a few.  And what usually happens is I’ll find a novel (or two or three) that sounds like a good read, find the book on the shelf, then give it some thought either as to whether I should buy it now or save it for later purchase (depends on the bank account at the time).

I stopped in Nicola’s Books while in Ann Arbor about three weeks ago, picked up the August, ’15 Indie Next listing, found a comfy chair, and looked through the offerings.  An unusually high number of four titles caught my eye.

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters
“Working in a used bookstore, Roberta has a habit of keeping letters or notes she may discover in the used books she receives….”

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes
“Holmes’ stories are powerful, sweet, tenderhearted, and honest depictions of contemporary experience…

Black Chalk by Christopher Yates
“In Thatcher-era England, six first-year Oxford University students have come together as friends…

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer
“Somer uses the unusual device of a goldfish plunging off a high-rise balcony to tie together the disparate stories of the building’s inhabitants.

I went back to the shelf and plucked each of these titles, and returned to my chair.  With only one title in my budget, I had to give it some thought.  I always consider my “to read” shelf at home, which is always overflowing, as to how soon I plan on sitting down with the book, bookmark in hand.  If it doesn’t move me enough to jump into the already large mix of “want to read now” books, all four could find themselves back on the shelf, potentially noted for future consideration.

Walters and Yates’ novels drew interest right away, and I thought I’d be walking out with either of them.  Walters’ novel is about a used book seller – book sellers and book stores always of high interest to me – and Yates’ novel drew my interest upon reading the first page.  Holmes’ collection of short stories drifted out of contention only because I have quite a few short story collections that are on that “want to read now” list.

Oddly, Fishbowl won.  The premise was interesting, but I think what sold it was the flip-book art of the goldfish’s free-fall along the side of the page.

Try that with a Kindle.  It made the book, itself, something unique with the story.

In fact, Fishbowl did that rare thing that happens in my world.  I was about seventy pages into reading a novel that was moving a bit sluggish, and it cut right in and demanded to be read immediately.

The novel is about Ian, the goldfish who takes a dive out of his fishbowl from the balcony of the twenty-seventh floor of the Seville on Roxy’s apartment building.  The reader is warned that “Ian doesn’t take his plunge from the balcony until chapter 54, when a dreadful series of events culminates in an opportunity for Ian to escape his watery prison.”  It is the series of events involving the tenants of the Seville on Roxy that keeps us going, not only to find out how and why Ian takes his leap out of the fishbowl and into the air twenty-seven floors above the pavement, but of the predicaments for certain residents of the apartment building that build up to the mighty leap of Ian’s.  There is Connor, the renter of the twenty-seventh floor apartment who is a grad student with the dilemma that the woman he loves is about to visit while his mistress, Faye, is asleep in his bed.  There is Jimenez, the apartment’s handyman, who lives a solitary life, ending his day by addressing the broken elevator and fixing a sink in the apartment of Garth, a construction worker with a secret life.  There is Petunia Delilah whose water breaks and cannot reach either her husband or her midwife who is supposed to aid her in delivering her baby naturally, and winds up on the threshold of agoraphobic Claire’s apartment with the baby’s leg and arm free from her womb and an unconscious, home-schooled boy named Herman at her side.  Each individual has a life of their own, but within the box of the apartment building and the events of the day Ian took his leap, Somer weaves a story of how their lives and life, in general, interconnects.

Well-written and amusing, it was a much needed trip to Ann Arbor that allowed me to discover this book, which I have not seen on the shelf of either of the two nearest big book retail stores.  Coincidence?

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