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FISHBOWL by Bradley Somer is an absurdly beautiful, inventive and charming novel. It captures, depending on how you reckon the time it covers, about four seconds in the life of a goldfish or about half an hour in the lives of several residents of an apartment building. All are experiencing moments at once mundane and transformative, of potential heartbreak and potential joy.

Ian the goldfish lives on the top floor of the 27-story Seville on Roxy apartment building. As he plummets from the balcony of the apartment where he had lived as a gift from Katie to her boyfriend, Connor, Ian gets brief glimpses through the windows and into the lives of other residents of the building. Thankfully, Somer expands upon these glimpses by sharing the tales of a handful of these residents.

"There is a delightful strangeness here, but it is tempered by the acute realism with which it is paired, making FISHBOWL an entertaining, engaging and poignant read."

There are the aforementioned Katie and Connor, the young couple attempting to define their relationship and understand their feelings for each other. Things will become quickly complicated as Katie passes Faye, Connor's “other woman,” on the stairs. While Katie and Connor are suffering at the crossroads of their relationship, the building's super, a quiet and lonely man named Jimenez, attempts to fix the elevator (hence Katie and Faye meeting in the stairwell) before moving on to the last job of the day. The out-of-order elevator forces the Seville on Roxy residents to huff and puff up the stairs to get home, but Jimenez's last job, a leaky sink, compels him and a resident named Garth to confront their longings for companionship and expression. Garth himself had just trudged up to his apartment carrying a parcel that he hopes will bring him happiness and a freedom to be who he truly is.

Another trio of characters come together as Ian rapidly drops toward the ground: Herman, an eccentric home-schooled boy living with his grandfather; Petunia Delilah, who is craving an ice cream sandwich and suddenly finds herself in labor all alone; and Claire, a germophobic shut-in who just lost her phone sex job. When Petunia Delilah comes to Claire’s door, dragging an unconscious Herman by the ankle, the messy outside world comes rushing into Claire's neat and ordered home. What happens in that apartment will change all of their lives drastically in gut-wrenching and wonderful ways.

Even as Ian's fate, in the form of concrete, is looming larger and larger, the lives of Katie, Jimenez, Garth, Claire, Petunia Delilah and Herman seem to be opening up and expanding in a marvelous, if complicated and difficult, fashion.

FISHBOWL is a short novel and often reads like a handful of novellas brought together by Ian's bowl jump. Yet that in no way diminishes the power of Somer's storytelling or his philosophic ruminations on togetherness, intimacy and identity. The characters are briefly but richly drawn, and there are events terrifying, funny, brutal and ultimately optimistic. There is a delightful strangeness here, but it is tempered by the acute realism with which it is paired, making FISHBOWL an entertaining, engaging and poignant read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 14, 2015

by Bradley Somer

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250105889
  • ISBN-13: 9781250105882