Book Review: Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton

As she wakes, she remembers three things he once tried to teach her. First, that human blood contains the exact same liquid-to-salt ratio as text ocean. Second, that murder can be necessary. Third, that living in a tank is exactly like being in love.

Alternating between 1940 and 1998 Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton follows Margot Fiske as an adolescent girl and an aged women to shed light on the history behind the metamorphosis of Cannery Row and the developement of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Margot has apprenticed with her father her entire life, learning a variety of skills and trades which only enhance her unusual personality. Though serious and slighty morbid, Margot is not immune to the fancies of girls on the brink of womanhood and an accident on the beaches of Monterey Bay brings her into the arms of a much older man- the biologist Edward Ricketts.

Her time with the biologist had been more than just a drunken tryst, but that didn’t mean she could act on it. For one thing, there was no strategy in place. For another, she knew in looked hackneyed and girlish- the accident, the forced rehabilitation, the unlikely romance- even though it felt unique and vital, and she wasn’t sure how to manage the resulting dissonance. So she did the only thing she could do while conditions were still unstable: mimicking Anders’s stoicism and using it to engineer her return to the lab.

Age and circumstance attempts to prevent Margot from further pursuing Ricketts. However, her father taught her well and she plays to his fiscal sensibilities whereby she gains his permission to return to the company of the scientist. Margot’s artistic talents were one of the early characteristics that attracted Ricketts and she uses that ability as leverage to gain access to his laboratory. Margot begins to assist Ricketts by drawing his specimens and what follows is a tumultuous affair of the heart and the mind.

Her eyes wandered away from her papers as every opportunity, divining the clues that, if assembled in the right order, would help to shrink the distance between her body and his. She wanted to stand up, jump around, knock things from the shelves. She had, however, made herself certain promises: detachment, maturity, indifference, restraint. So she forced herself to remain behind the desk, her only concession to her weaker impulses the occasional visit to his bathroom, where she would stare at herself in the mirror and perform the sort of actions that, until now, she had always considered wasteful and sad: the fluffing of hair, the pinching of cheeks, the releasing of the top two buttons of her shirt, anything to ensure her attractiveness when he eventually found her sitting there with his jars, one living body among the dead.

Margot becomes consumed by her infatuation with Ricketts, and though she doesn’t outwardly admit it, with his work. It gets under her skin and settles like the parasitic worms  both are so fond of. She persuades Ricketts to allow her to take on the incapacitating and preserving of the specimens as well as the transfer their likeness to paper.

Her only clarity, therefore, was in her work, and in this sense she had never been more successful. With the exception of her and Ricketts’s field trips, her days were split precisely down the middle, anesthetizing and preserving his collections in the morning, drawing them in the afternoon, a schedule as predictable as the tides. In the garage, the air was rough with methanol and brine, her blood warming with each little death; behind the desk, she would perform her artists resurrections. During these times, she could almost forget how awful it was to be in love. It was only at night on the horsehair sofa that the truth came to her: the day’s disappointments lurking, her adoration of him and her abhorrence of herself so suffocating, so monotonous, that it felt like a measurable physical weight. It made her want to give up entirely, to never go down the hill again, to remain in the house until her father’s work was done and it was time to leave Monterey for good. But then she would remember the mud, the otters, the smells of sage and stone.

While Margot toils away in the laboratory, her father is busy with business of his own. What follows is a saga of  heartbreak, betrayal and redemption. Written in flowing, vivid prose, Hatton chronicles the idea of the Monterey Bay Aquarium: the seed of an idea being sowed and biding it’s time until someone could return to nurture it properly. Deeply moving, at its core Monterey Bay is a tale of the will to succeed and the will to love.

He could talk all he wanted about where things lived and why, but the fact of the matter was that wanting something meant nothing unless you actually took it. People, places, things: all of it so fragile, so easy, so obtainable. So infinitely up for grabs.

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