Saturday, September 23, 2023

Whalefall - Daniel Kraus


If you've ever wondered, even for just a minute, what it would be like to actually be swallowed by a whale, I have just the book for you. In Whalefall that is exactly what Daniel Kraus explores. 

Seventeen-year-old Jay Gardiner is feeling very guilty about refusing to see his dying father for the last two years of the man's life. As an only son whose father expected great things from him, Jay still resents the way his father physically and emotionally abused him as a child. But now Jay fears that he will never again feel close to his mother and two sisters because of his choice to stay away from home even when his father was suffering the most. It doesn't help at all that Jay's father chose suicide over an agonizing death to cancer.

So Jay decides to look for his father's remains off the coast of northern California early one morning to make amends to his family. Monastery Beach, though, is not a place that sensible divers solo dive from even in good weather - and on the morning that Jay enters the water there, the weather is nowhere near good. Things quickly go bad for the boy.

Within minutes he is shocked to see a giant squid so close to the surface, but his shock turns into panic when he tries to swim away from the squid only to learn that part of his gear is entangled in the squid's tentacles. That's a bad situation, and Jay realizes he is in real trouble - trouble that soon gets much worse after a huge sperm whale decides to make a meal of the giant squid and accidentally swallows Jay along with his intended prey. (All of this information is included in the book jacket description.)

The rest of Whalefall is an almost minute-by-minute account of Jay's attempt to escape the whale's first (whales have four of them) stomach before his one-hour supply of air runs out. In great detail, Kraus explains exactly what is happening to Jay as the whale attempts to move his catch from one stomach to the next. As you can imagine, it all gets more painful for prey as that process progresses. 

Whalefall is definitely a thriller. There are no traditional chapters in the book, with its longest sections consisting of less than three full pages each. Rather, there are dozens of short sections headed up by the current pressure reading on Jay's oxygen tank, and as those four-digit readings steadily drop toward zero, the reader's tenseness level builds in inverse proportion. Interspersed with those sections are flashbacks to Jay's childhood that are titled by the year in which they happened. This way the reader learns exactly what happened to Jay as a boy and why he made the decisions he made. Ironically, it is only while reflecting on his relationship with his father while taking brief breaks from his struggle inside the whale that Jay finally begins to understand his father.

I suspect that Whalefall is not going to be for everyone, but if any of this makes you wonder about Jay's experience, or just makes you curious to know how it all ends, you should give this one a try.

Daniel Kraus (Simon and Schuster photo)


  1. Replies
    1. It's certainly different, Lark. Strangest book I've read all year.

  2. Well, I do have to admit I'm curious if he escaped the whale!

  3. Hi Sam, the story of a son trying to make peace with his father after his father is gone can be very powerful. But the whale part of fhe story I am not sure about. It does seem that the author is making a biblical reference but not sure why the whale part of the story is needed or what the author is trying to say.

    1. I think he placed the boy inside the whale to give him a place to remember all the things his father taught him over the years about the ocean and its inhabitants. He was forced to concentrate on every little tidbit or piece of trivia about whales and whale behavior that his father forced him to memorize. He was searching for a way out the whole book, but he ended up gaining a better understanding of the man his father really was. He was on a journey to find his father...and he ended up doing that...just not in a way he ever imagined he would find him when he entered the water that morning.

  4. This sounds pretty weird, but I'm intrigued!

    1. Definitely an unusual plot, and it did take me a bunch of pages to get comfortable with the main character, but it was worth the effort, especially since it turned out to be more than just the thriller I expected it would be.


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