how far light can reach
Little, Brown & Co., $27
exist how far light can reach, Sabrina Imbler shows us that the ocean, in all its mysterious and dazzling glory, is strange—that is, the life that forms there challenges our landlubbers’ ideas of how to exist. This collection of essays tells the stories of 10 sea creatures, with queer and biracial author Imbler weaving their own stories of family, self-discovery, sex and healing. In this delightful blend of memoir and science journalism, alien animals often thought of as strange or alien are transformed into recognizable symbols of identity, community, and queer joy.
“The truth is I was asked to leave Petco, but I told everyone I was banned,” said Imbler, a 13-year-old who staged protests in the store to try to convince customers not to buy goldfish bowls. The bowls allow the fish to live truncated lives in see-through coffins, where they will die in isolation, starved of oxygen and poisoned by the ammonia in their own urine, Imbler writes.
But not bound by the bowl, the fish thrives. Goldfish swell to the size of a milk jug when bored pet owners throw them into lakes or rivers. They are “so good at living that they have become an ecological menace,” Imbler wrote, multiplying with abandon, uprooting bottom dwellers and promoting bacterial growth and algal blooms.
Still, Imbler can’t help admiring the resilience of wild goldfish: “I’ve seen something that no one expected, that it’s not only going to live, but it’s going to prosper.”
Survival in unimaginable environments is a common theme for all alien animals. Get the Yeti Crab (Kiwa puravida), and after reading the book, I now declare it to be a weird icon (get out of the way, Babadook). In the cold darkness some 1,000 meters below the surface, crabs find solace near hydrothermal vents.
Such hotspots breed life in the desolate wasteland. Heat and chemicals from the Earth’s interior sustain ecosystems of crabs, clams, mussels, tube worms and more. there, in true queer fashion, K. puravida “Dancing for life,” wrote Imbler. The yeti crab tosses its claws into the air and waves them around like it doesn’t care. In doing so, it is “farming” the bacteria it eats, which attach to the crab’s bristly claws. Waving the paw in a slow but steady rhythm ensures that the bacteria get nourishment.
In telling the crab’s story, Imbler recalled their search for community after moving to Seattle in 2016. Feeling alone among the mostly white people they met, Imbler discovered a monthly party called Night Crush, hosted by and for gay people of color. Night Crush becomes Imbler’s very own hydrothermal vent – a warm oasis where people dance in mesh, sequins, glitter and glee. “As queer people, we get to choose our families,” Imbler wrote. “The vent bacteria, tube worms and yeti crabs are just a step further. They choose what nourishes them.”
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Imbler looks to the sea to explore every aspect of the home. Purple Octopus (North Pacific Granite), for example, provides insights into motherhood. During a four-and-a-half-year gestation period, longest known animalThe octopus starved herself and gave up hunting to protect her eggs (Serial Number: 7/30/14).
Through the octopus legend, Imbler is reminded of his own mother, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan as a child. Imbler’s mother felt like she had arrived on “a new planet”. In order to survive, she learned to want to be as white and “American” as possible, and to be as thin as possible—a trauma inherited by Imbler, who developed an eating disorder.
During their recovery, Imbler realized that their mother’s desire to make them thinner, though harmful, was in some ways an act of love: “She wanted me to be thinner so things would be easier. White, so It’s going to be easier. Direct, so it’s going to be easy, easy, easy. So, unlike her, no one is going to question my rights in America.”
Imbler writes with the same grace, clarity and tenderness as the book’s other passages, whether they are contemplating their own gender expressions through the cuttlefish’s mastery of perversion, or examining their experiences of sexual assault through the ambush predators of the ocean floor, the Sand Strikers. .
Like a goldfish in a bowl, I was limited by the word count and couldn’t say all I wanted to say about this must-read. So I’ll end with some final insights. In an article, Imbler introduced salps. These jelly-like blobs come in the form of hundreds of identical salps linked in a chain. These creatures do not move with a synchronized effort. “The salps allow each individual to squirt in the same direction at their own speed,” Imbler wrote. “It’s not as fast as a coordinated stroke, but it’s more sustainable in the long run, with everyone sucking and squirting as much as they want. “
This collective idea of individuals moving at their own pace toward a common cause is familiar to queer and other marginalized groups—whether creating community or protesting for civil rights. It’s a concept that Imbler conveys to their readers: “We may all move at different paces, but we will only reach the horizon together.”
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