A novel of survival and grief by Daniel Kraus
5/5 Star Review
Jay Gardiner is diving alone in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Monastery Beach. He knows that it’s dangerous and that he shouldn’t be out there by himself, but he’s come here on a mission to find his dad’s remains from his suicide the previous year. He believes it is the only way to assuage his guilt and bring closure to his mom and two sisters who mourn at an empty grave. The dive begins well enough until Jay finds himself on the edge of the drop-off and a giant squid comes along. Following the giant squid up from the depths, a huge sperm whale appears to feed and draws both Jay and the squid into its mouth. Jay finds himself pulled into the whale’s stomach with only an hour’s worth of oxygen in his tank.
This book. Oh my goodness – this book! I walked in expecting a tense, survival story and left with that and so very much more. Kraus has crafted a tale that is both bleak and hopeful, claustrophic and mind-opening. I read it in one sitting – I absolutely could not put it down!
Let’s start at the surface – Whalefall is a survival story. It is intense and nerve-wracking. The chapters are short and counted down in PSI as Jay uses his oxygen. I am a diver and found this to be wildly clever as it’s a metric you keep a constant eye on. You want to start planning your ascent to end your dive with around 500 PSI in your tank. It added an extra layer of stress to this already claustrophobic and tense novel.
Let’s dig below the surface – Whalefall is a story of grief and a broken father-and-son relationship. It is heart-breaking and gutting. The chapters are short and counted in the years leading up to Jay’s father, Mitt’s, suicide. Jay is the youngest of the three children and the only boy. Mitt wanted a son to whom he could pass on all his knowledge and Jay wasn’t sure that Mitt was the kind of guy that Jay wanted to become. As Jay is caught in the literal belly of a beast, he is forced to remember all of the diving, nature, and survival knowledge that his dad imparted on him and with that knowledge, all of the memories that came with gaining it.
This novel is as much about relationships as it is about survival and I can’t recommend it highly enough. There’s so much more that I would love to say about this book, but I don’t want to drop any spoilers. Whalefall releases on August 8, 2023 and I hope you will pre-order it.