So Many Fish

Ann Patchett has written several delightful novels. A few months ago I read Run. One character is a college student who is very serious about fish and works at the Harvard Natural History Museum. He takes a small relative down to the fish collection to help him put jars away. She is alarmed at the idea that people were still discovering new species. They discuss it, briefly. Then there’s this nice thing, in the narrator’s voice.

It unnerved her, the thought that things weren’t settled, that life itself hadn’t been completely pinned down to a corkboard and labeled. It made her feel cold, like anything could happen still. Why hadn’t someone taken the time to name all the fish, and how many more fish were there room for? The shelves were already burdened. This place was like a submarine, dark and gray with dozens of different sized pipes running back and forth over the ceiling. Where were they going to put that many more fish? It would be one thing if he was talking about a dozen or two dozen, but if the number just kept expanding year after year, decade after decade, it was only a matter of time before the fish would have to go upstairs and take over part of the space that belonged to the birds. Then Kenya had a thought that seemed more terrible still: What if they hadn’t found all the birds?