Monday, September 25, 2023

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 327 pages
Published: August 2023

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus was more like a whaleFAIL for me. The cover is beautiful. The premise is intriguing, but the story simply fell flat for me. To be honest, this is not something I would normally read, but the synopsis and aforementioned cover just grabbed me. (So much for judging a book by its cover!). 

The arresting plot is about a young man, Jay, who is attempting to grieve and cope with the death (by suicide) of his father, Mitt. Mitt and Jay have been estranged for sometime, and even on Mitt's deathbed, Jay can't seem to bring himself to visit and reconcile with his father. And quite honestly, I understand the hesitation. Mitt was described as a narrow-minded, chauvinistic man's man who could not process that his only son had different aspirations and was a bit more nuanced as an individual. Mitt lived his life without much emotion, and he seemed to be embarrassed when Jay showed any. But I digress. 

The story opens, and Mitt has died. Jay is grieving, and has decided to go out to the ocean where his father died by suicide to find and collect his remains. What he sets out to do at the beginning of the book is so dangerous that he must do it in secret. As luck (or commonsense) would have it, he dives in with this scuba gear, encounters trouble with a squid and ends up swallowed by and in the stomach of a whale. The story is told as he travels through the four stomachs of said whale, and it claims to be scientifically accurate. I am not a scientist or a diver, but there was definitely an overabundance of technical details in the story, so yeah I guess it probably is technically accurate. But does that really matter? I would argue, no. The scientific minutiae made it difficult for me to accurately picture what was happening. Coupled with the overwrought descriptions are seemingly random flashbacks in Jay's mind of interactions with mainly his father but also his mother and sisters. 

Any adult reader can discern the main character is grappling with his father's death and the overbearing whale is serving as some sort of paternal metaphor. I think the overall premise is thoughtful; however, the execution just didn't do it for me. It was erratic and disjointed, and I didn't really enjoy the journey. I was just ready to take one big breath of fresh air when it was over. 

Recommendation: I always say not every book is for every one, and maybe this one wasn't for me. I don't know that I'd be running to the bookstore or library to read another book by this author. But to each his own. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.


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