A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He's longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.
There's the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building's super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time. Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become.
Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, "An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had."
In the tradition of Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain and Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Bradley Somer's Fishbowl is at turns funny and heartbreaking.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 3.80(d)|
About the Author
BRADLEY SOMER was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up in Canada and holds degrees in Anthropology and Archaeology. His short fiction has appeared in literary journals, reviews and anthologies. His debut novel, Imperfections, published in Canada, won the 2013 CBC Bookie Award for debut of the year. Bradley currently lives in a little old house in the city of Calgary, Canada, where he works on his writing projects and tries to ignore the wild growth that his backyard has become.
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By Bradley Somer, David Curtis Studio
St. Martins PressCopyright © 2015 Bradley Somer
All rights reserved.
In Which the Essence of Life and Everything Else Is Illuminated
There's a box that contains life and everything else.
This is not a figurative box of lore. It's not a box of paper sheets that have been captured, bound, and filled with the inkings of faith, chronicling the foibles and contradictions of the human species. It doesn't sport the musty smell of ancient wisdom and moldering paper. It isn't a microscopic box of C, G, A, or T, residing within cell walls and containing traces of everything that ever lived, from today back through the astral dust of the Big Bang itself to whatever existed before time began. It can't be spliced or recombined or subjected to therapy. It's not the work of any god or the evolution of Darwin. It's not a thousand other ideas, however concrete or abstract they may be, that could fill the pages of this book. It's not one of these things, but it's all of them combined and more.
Now we know what it isn't, let's focus on what it is. It's a box containing the perpetual presence of life itself. Living things move within it, and at some point, it will have been around long enough to have contained absolutely everything. Not all at once, but over the years, building infinite layer upon infinite layer, it will all wind up there. Time will compile these experiences, stacking them on top of each other, and while the moments themselves are fleeting, their visceral memory is everlasting. The passing of a particular moment can't erase the fact that it was once present.
In this way, the box reaches beyond the organic to the ethereal. The heartbreaking sweetness of love, the rending hatred, the slippery lust, the sorrow of losing a family member, the pain of loneliness, all thoughts that were ever thought, every word ever said and even those which were not, the joys of birth and the sorrows of death and everything else will be experienced here in this one vessel. The air is thick with the anticipation of it all. After it's all done, the air will be heavy with everything that has passed.
It's a box constructed by human hands and, yes, if your beliefs trend that way, by extension, the hands of God. Regardless of its origin, its purpose is the same and its structure reflects its purpose. The box is partitioned into little compartments in which all of these experiences of time are stored, though there's no order to their place or chronological happening.
There are compartments stacked twenty-seven high, three wide, and two deep that house this jumble of everything. Melvil Dewey, the patron saint of librarians, would cringe at the mere thought of trying to catalog the details of these one hundred and sixty-two compartments. There's no way to arrange or structure what happens here, no way to exert control over it or systematize it. It just has to be left a mess.
A pair of elevators connects all of these compartments. Themselves little boxes, each with a capacity of ten people or 4,000 lb./1,814 kg., whichever comes first. Each with a little plaque attached to the mirrored wall near the panel that says it's so. The irritating pitch of the alarm that sounds when there's too much weight inside also says it's so. The elevators trundle tirelessly up and down their dingy shafts, diligently delivering artifacts and their custodians to the different levels. Day and night, they shuttle to one floor and then to the next and then back to the lobby. There's a staircase too, in case of fire or power outage, so the custodians can grab the artifacts most dear to them and safely exit the box.
The box is a building, yes. More specifically it's an apartment building. It sits there, an actual place in an actual city. It has a street address so people who are unfamiliar with the area can find it. It also has a series of numbers so lawyers and city surveyors can find it too. It's classified in many ways. To the city it's an orange rectangle with black crosshatching on the zoning map. "Multi-Residential, High-Density High-Rise," the legend reads. To many occupants it's a "one-bedroom apartment for rent, with underground parking and coin laundry facilities." To some it was "an unbelievably affordable way to experience the convenience and excitement of downtown living. This two-bedroom, one-bathroom condo with uninterrupted city views must be seen to be believed," and is now home. For a few, it's a place to work on the weekdays. For others, it's a place to visit friends on the weekends.
The building was constructed in 1976 and has hobbled through time ever since. When it was still new, it was the tallest building on the street. Now that it's older, there are three taller ones. Soon there will be a fourth. For the time, it was an elegant and stately building. Now it seems dated, belonging to a period in architectural history that has its own name, a name that was not known at the time it was built but is applied knowingly in hindsight.
The building was renovated recently because it was in much need. The concrete was painted to hide the spalling cracks and compiled graffiti. The drafty windows and gappy doors to the balconies were replaced to keep the evening chill outside and the temperate air in. Last year, the boiler was upgraded to provide adequate hot water for washing up. The electrical was updated because building codes have changed. It was once a building entirely full of renters. Now, it is a condominium where most people own but others still choose to rent out their suites to offset other investment risks, to "diversify their portfolios."
The building fulfills an Arcensian mission of carrying everything mentioned thus far, housing the spirit and the chaos of life and those beings in which they reside, through the floods and to safety every time the water recedes. Depending on where you live, this box may be just up the street. It may even be within walking distance from where you read these words. You may drive past it on the way home from work if you work downtown but live in the suburbs. Or you may even live there.
If you see this building, pause for a second to ponder what a marvelous arcanum it is. It will sit there long after you turn the last page in this book and long after we are dead and these words have been forgotten. The beginning and end of time will happen there within those walls, between the roof and the parking garage. But for now, only a handful of decades old, it's a growing marvel in its nascent days and this book is a short chronicle of its youth.
Spelled out above the front door, bolted to the brick in weeping, rusty black metal lettering, is the name of the building: the Seville on Roxy.CHAPTER 2
In Which Our Protagonist, Ian, Takes a Dreadful Fall
Our story doesn't begin with a goldfish named Ian's perilous plunge from his bowl on the twenty-seventh-floor balcony where he, for as much as he can comprehend, has been enjoying the view of the downtown skyline.
In the long shadows of the late-afternoon sun, the city is a picket fence of buildings. There are dusty-rose glass ones, reflecting a Martian sun. Others are gunmetal-blue mirrors, and still others are simple brick-and-concrete blocks. There are office tower thrones proudly wearing corporate logo crowns, and there are hotels and apartment buildings, prickly with balconies ribbing every side of their vertical space. All of them have been shoved into the ground, into a grid that brings some order to their apparent incongruity.
Ian looks out over this megalithic flower garden of skyscrapers and sees only as much wonder as his mind can muster. He's a goldfish with a bird's-eye view of the world. A goldfish held aloft on a concrete platform with a god's perspective, one that's lost on a brain that can't fathom what it is looking at, but by that fact, the view is made even more wondrous.
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. But we start with Ian for a few reasons, the first being that he's a vital thread that ties humanity together. The second is, with a fish's brain capacity, time and place mean little because both are constantly being rediscovered. Whether he takes his fall now, fifteen minutes from now, or fifteen minutes ago doesn't matter because Ian can neither comprehend place and time nor comprehend the order that each imposes on the other.
Ian's world is a pastiche of events with no sequence, no past and no future.
For example, just now, at the beginning of his career as a Cypriniforme skydiver, Ian remembers that his watery home still sits there on a thrift-store folding table with flaking green paint. His bowl is empty now, save for a few pebbles, a little pink plastic castle, a fog of algae on the glass, and his roommate, Troy the snail. A rapidly growing length of empty air spans the distance between the bowl and its former resident. It doesn't matter to Ian that this event doesn't actually happen until chapter 54 because he already forgets how it came to be. Soon he will forget the bowl he spent months living in. He will forget the ludicrous pink castle. With time, the insufferable Troy will not just fade to a memory; he will disappear from Ian's experience all together. It will be as if he never existed at all.
While falling past a twenty-fifth-floor window, Ian catches a glimpse of a middle-aged woman of considerable size taking a step across the living room. The glimpse, a fleeting flash in the mind of a creature with no memory, has the woman wearing a beautiful gown, her movements as elegant and graceful as the drape and flow of the fine material she wears. The gown is a stunning shade of red. He would call it carmine if he knew the word for it. The woman's back is to Ian, who admires the tailored cut of the gown and how it accentuates her voluptuous form and the valley of her spine between her muscular shoulder blades. She's in the process of stepping around a coffee table. The way she moves betrays a level of shyness and a hint of terror. Her toes point slightly inward, her knees touch lightly together. Her hands are clasped on one side, one arm held apologetically across her belly and the other resting on her hip. Her fingers are knotted into a nest.
There's also a round hulk of a man in the center of the living room. The man has an arm outstretched to her, thick hair on his thick forearms, sporting a blissful look in his eyes. His face is calm, which is in contrast to the anxiety shown by the woman. A hint of a smile curves his lips. He wears the look of how a loved one's embrace feels.
All of this is a flash, an inert moment as Ian passes the twenty-fifth floor on his approach to terminal velocity. With a goldfish's sensibility, Ian cannot fathom the oddly divine nature of the existence of this constant velocity. If he could, Ian would wonder on the beautiful and quantifiable order that gravity imposes on the chaos of the world, the harmony of a marriage between a constant acceleration and an ultimate speed that all objects in free fall reach but don't breach. Is this universal number divine or simply physics, and if it's the latter, could it be the work of the former?
Having very little control over his descent, Ian tumbles freely and catches sight of the expansive pale-blue sky above and hundreds of fluttering white sheets of paper, twisting gracefully through the air, graciously flitting and swooping after him like a flock of seabirds to a trawler. Around Ian, swirling in the wind, are exactly two hundred and thirty-two pages of a dissertation in progress. One of these floating sheets is the title page, the first to fall and now teetering on a breeze below all the others, upon which is printed in a bold font "A Late Pleistocene and Holocene Phytolith Record of the Lower Salmon River Canyon, Idaho," under which is an italicized "by Connor Radley."
Their descent is much more delicate than the clumsy, corklike plummeting of a goldfish, which evolution has left ill prepared to pass a rapidly decreasing number of floors of a downtown high-rise. Indeed, evolution did not intend for goldfish to fly. Neither did God, if that's what you believe. It really doesn't matter. Ian can neither comprehend nor believe in either, and the result of this inability is the same. The cause is irrelevant at the moment because the effect is irrevocable.
As his world pitches and spins, Ian catches flashing glimpses of pavement, horizon, open sky, and the gently swirling leaves of paper. Poor Ian doesn't think how unfortunate it is that he isn't an ant, a creature known to be able to fall a thousand times its body length and still hexaped on its merry way. He doesn't lament the fact that he wasn't born a bird, something that is obviously lamentable at present. Ian has never been particularly introspective or melancholic. It's not in his nature to contemplate or to lament. The core of Ian's character is a simple amalgam of carpe diem, laissez-faire, and Namaste.
"Less thinking, more doing" is the goldfish's philosophy.
"Having a plan is the first step toward failure," he would say if he could speak.
Ian is a bon vivant, and given the capacity to ponder, he would have found it a statement of the language's character that English has no equivalent descriptor and had to steal it from French. He's always been happy as a goldfish. It doesn't dawn on him that, with the passing of another twenty-five floors, unless something drastically unpredictable and miraculous happens, he'll meet the pavement at considerable speed.
In some ways, Ian is blessed with the underanalyzing mind of a goldfish. The troubles associated with deeper thought are replaced with basic instinct and a memory that spans a fraction of a second. He's more reactionary than plotting or planning. He doesn't dwell or ponder at length about anything. Just as he realizes his predicament, it blissfully slips from his mind in time to be rediscovered. He sleeps well because of this; there are no worries, and there is no racing mind.
Alternately, physiologically, the repeated realization of the terror of falling is quite draining on a body. It's the rapid-fire release of adrenaline, the repetitive pokes in his flight response, that stresses this gold-encased nugget of fishy flesh.
"Now, what was I doing? Oh my, I can't breathe. Oh shit, I'm falling off a high-rise! Now ... what was I doing? Oh my ..."
Blessed indeed are the thoughtless.
But, as was pointed out earlier, when he was tumbling from the twenty-seventh-floor balcony, before he got here to the twenty-fifth, our story doesn't begin with Ian.CHAPTER 3
In Which Katie Approaches the Seville on Roxy on a Vital Mission
Our story begins about half an hour before Ian takes the plunge. It starts with Katie, Connor Radley's girlfriend. That's her standing at a pharmacy door two blocks up the street from the Seville on Roxy, looking out at the late-afternoon sun. She rests one hand on the handle, but instead of opening the door and leaving the store, she looks up Roxy. The sidewalk bustles with shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrians, and the road is clogged, bumper to bumper, with the mounting rush hour traffic.
There's a construction site next to the pharmacy, in front of which a billboard reads, "The Future Home of the Baineston on Roxy, 180 luxury suites now selling." A clean line drawing shows a boxy glass high-rise building bracketed by green trees, with people walking by the front. The trees and people are abstract sketches compared with the clarity with which the building is depicted. A sticker splashes across one corner of the billboard. It reads, "40% Sold." It peels and curls a bit at the edge, which makes Katie wonder how long it has been up there. Her eyes are drawn to the people in the sketch, anonymous and blurred with movement, bodies filling space more than people living lives.
The construction site had been busy with gawking workers wearing hard hats when she entered the pharmacy ten minutes ago. The air smelled like burning diesel and concrete dust. She ignored their gazes. She could hear them talking but only caught enough lewd snippets of their conversation to inform her that she was their topic. It was enough to make her feel uncomfortable but not enough to inspire her to confront the pack of them about their impropriety, had she been able to muster the courage.
The site is now deserted, and the machines are all quiet. A solitary figure stands at the chain-link gate. He wears a blue uniform that has a "Griffin Security" patch on one shoulder and the name "Ahmed" stitched on the chest. There's a chair beside him with prolapsed orange sponge billowing through a rip in the covering.
Excerpted from Fishbowl by Bradley Somer, David Curtis Studio. Copyright © 2015 Bradley Somer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martins Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A unique, yet simple story. Great insight into society & the human mind. I look forward to reading more from this author.
As Ian, the goldfish plummets to the ground, I wanted a swimming pool, an ACME brand swimming pool to be precise to miraculous appears on the sidewalk below him and save him from a disastrous outcome. I wanted a “that’s not all folks” at the end of this novel, as his journey has been incredible. I wanted to know more about the individuals whose lives he shared with me and I wanted more of Ian, for his insight was deeper than some individuals I know, who are not amphibians. The story centers on a tall apartment complex, with individuals who reside inside it and a goldfish who longs for adventure. The stories of the individuals who reside inside their apartments are all unique, each of their lives are hidden behind their own doors, yet there something that ties them together in this structure on Roxy. Living on the balcony, Ian gets out of his bowl and starts his freefall decent outside the building. As Ian falls, he glimpse inside his neighbor’s apartments as he descents downward giving up readers short narrative accounts conveying what he perceives from their glass panes. I enjoyed his insight, his language and his view of life made me stop and contemplate, and it was funny to think that this was coming from a goldfish. As the stories of his neighbors are revealed, the diversity and the similarities of their lives made this book one that I truly enjoyed. I had a hard putting it down once I got involved in the activity of the building and the individuals who resided within. I found that when I first started this novel, it took a while for me to get into the groove of the writing style and the language but when I finally did, I loved it and I couldn’t put it down The diversity of the characters and the way the book was put together was fantastic. I was really impressed with this novel.
This book was just okay for me. I got a few chuckles out of it, I guess. There were many phrases, sentences and paragraphs that were repeated several times just because the author was getting the perspective of several characters involved in the same situation. The characters were pretty quirky and the author did a good job developing them. It was an interesting enough read but not one I would pay for. Thanks St. Martin's Press and Net Galley for providing me with this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.