Author: Daniel Kraus
Release date: August 8th, 2023
Firstly – HUGE, MASSIVE THANK YOU!!!! to Randall at Simon and Schuster for scoring me an ARC of this novel this past weekend while in Toronto. I can’t thank you enough for this kind gift!
Since this novel was announced, I was on the edge of my seat. A diver gets swallowed by a whale. This past weekend, while in Toronto at the Andrew Pyper/The Demonologist event, this novel was continuously brought up, and, time-and-time-again, each and every person, whether a horror writer or reader said the same thing – “That is my biggest fear.”
It’s crazy isn’t it? The oceans remain largely unexplored and we really don’t know much, if anything about all of its secrets and what lives below where the light can no longer reach. And for the most part, what we do know is frightening as hell. You go too deep – KABOOM! – the pressure of the water crushes you. You surface too fast – KABOOM! – the gas inside you destroys you. You spend too much time in the water, the gases you breathe in make you delirious and you drunkenly drown. And of course – you’re always in danger of being stung by a poisonous animal, or ripped apart by a shark and its massive teeth.
The ocean is inherently scary place. Yet, being swallowed by a massive whale ramps up that fear factor to another level.
There’s been dozens (if not more) books over the years discussing this and many of us remember the Pinocchio scene from childhood, but Daniel Kraus has done something truly special here. I wasn’t sure just how special until I finished reading it, but even while cruising through the pages where I was staying in Toronto or while flying home, I knew I was reading a modern masterpiece.
What I liked: The story follows Jay, a young man on the verge of graduating high school and moving on with his life, a life he wants to leave behind. A life filled with people who idolized his dad and who blames him for turning his back on the man. His father, Mitt, was a local legend, a man who’d dived more than any and who knew everything there is to know about that world.
On this day, Jay is going on his final dive, a dive revolving around his father and while down there, he is accidentally entangled with a squid and swallowed by a whale.
From here, Kraus does a phenomenal job of keeping us compelled to continue on, to learn more and more about Mitt and Jay’s estranged relationship, what happened after their last time on a boat together and just how much of Mitt’s life-long lessons he’d bestowed on Jay, that Jay’s remembered. He needs to remember them because that’s the only way he’ll have a chance at making it out of this massive Sperm Whale alive.
I’ve seen comparisons to ‘The Martian’ for this one, and I can say that is pretty accurate. Displaced man in an inhospitable environment with time running out before they die. The similarities were fascinating considering one was on Mars while the other was inside a 60-ton whale, but it worked so well and I think it’s a great way to get folks captivated in a story that they may otherwise not take a chance on.
The father-son relationship was such an emotional element and was a highlight throughout. In fact – and I don’t think this is a spoiler – Jay isn’t swallowed by a whale until right around page 120 or so. But Kraus did such an amazing job of throwing us into the parent-child dynamic and the nature of their relationship that I was holy invested. In fact, I would’ve been content to continue reading about Jay’s dive regarding his father and what he’s trying to do and rehashing their differences, without even a whale aspect. Of course, the whale comes along and takes this to a whole other level, but Kraus’ portrayal of those two was spot-on and held me rapt from the very beginning until the whale arrives.
The ending was pristine, powerful and an ending befitting the nature of the story and the events that brought us to the final page.
What I didn’t like: While I loved the ending, I could’ve handled a bit more about the after. About what takes place post finale. I really can’t say more – spoilers and such – but what we do get is pretty vague, as though looking at the details through smudged binoculars.
Why you should buy this: I mean, a guy gets swallowed by a whale. If just reading that has you amped – get on this – preorder and sit back and count down the days until it loads on your Kindle or ships to your house. If you’re still on the fence, consider the father-son story line, the powerfulness Kraus infuses in the age-old story of a parent and a child at odds and both wondering how they can patch up their relationship while neither want to take that step. This one was just so, so very good and Kraus has absolutely delivered.