Sunday, July 10, 2016

Monterey Bay

Title:  Monterey Bay
Author:  Lindsay Hatton
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2016. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1594206783 / 978-1594206788

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "When he' fifty years dead, she dreams she's gone back."

Favorite Quote:  "Oh, life is less about what one wants, I suppose, and more bout what one is willing to accept."

The Monterey Bay Aquarium opened on October 20, 1984. Its history reaches back to the early 1900s. With the rise of California's fishing industry came the rise of canneries. The first cannery opened in Monterey Bay in 1908. In 1916, a sardine cannery first opened in the location that is now the aquarium. World War I created a boom in the industry because of the demand for stable canned goods. Then came the Depression; this is the era that John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row published in 1945 immortalizes. In the aftermath of the War, the sardines disappeared from the Bay, and along with it the canning industry. The area fell into disrepair until the 1970s brought a revitalization to the area.

This is the history of Monterey Bay and the background of how the aquarium came to be. This is the setting for this book that "is set around the creation of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium--and the last days of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row." However, this book is more about Cannery Row than the aquarium. It is also more about one young woman, Margot Fiske and the men in her life. It is also more fiction than history.

Despite the beautiful Monterey Bay setting with its blue skies and blue water, the book is very dark. Its environment seems dreary and depressing, which I suppose goes along with the end of Cannery Row but not with the new beginnings of the aquarium. I want to see the creatures of Monterey Bay and the beauty of the tide pools and the sea life. Even though one main character is a biologist and one illustrates these creatures, I find the beauty lost.

I also find it difficult to keep focus and to be engaged with any of the characters. The book features two main historical figures - John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, who is the basis for the character of Doc in Cannery Row. Unfortunately, since the book is more fiction than history and because of some of the unsavory relationships in the book, it's difficult to appreciate the history.

Then, there's fifteen year old Margot, the main character. The book introduces Margot in two time periods - 1940 when she is fifteen and decades later in 1998. The premise if that the events of 1940 have such far reaching impact that they forever alter the course of Margot's life and, even decades later, pull her back.

She comes across as a young woman who needs help. She has a challenging relationship with her father; the role of her father in her life is a frustrating one for he does not seem to see his own daughter. Her relationships with some of the men of Cannery Row are clearly inappropriate for a young woman. Her predilection for self-harm seems a call for help. Her artistic abilities are a gift; her use of the her gift for pornography is disturbing. She can be and should be a sympathetic character. However, throughout the book, I struggle to understand the "why" of her story - the reasons behind Margot's choices. The issue is that I never do, not even through the sections that portray Margot in 1998. I never truly understand Margot, and as a result, I never truly engage in the book.

At the end, unfortunately, the book does not give me a sense of Monterey Bay, the aquarium, or the historical figures of Cannery Row. It just leaves me disappointed with a sad and depressing story of a young woman who I don't understand or truly care about.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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