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Daniel Kraus’ new novel, WHALEFALL, is unforgettable. In fact, it could have been titled The Young Man and the Sea. Eighteen-year-old Jay Gardiner is suffering from the crushing guilt of not having been there for his father when he needed him most. How can he face his family and his own reflection in the mirror?

Mitt’s long illness was so painful that he chose to take his own life in the ocean where he was raised. The family had no body to bury, and Jay, the prodigal son, suffered the torment of nearly everyone at the wake who shot him dirty looks from start to finish. Jay then takes it upon himself to make his own pilgrimage into the ocean in search of his father’s remains.

"WHALEFALL begs to be read in a single sitting as it produces an unpredictable and satisfying ending."

Mitt may not have been the perfect dad, but he did try to make his son a man. Along the way, he imparted a great deal of knowledge and lore about the sea and deep diving, which Jay has never forgotten. This certainly will come in handy as he faces the biggest ordeal of his young life --- getting inadvertently swallowed by a sperm whale with the oxygen slowly running out of his air tank.

WHALEFALL jumps back and forth between memories --- both surreal and obscure --- of Jay and Mitt, and includes chapters that are headed by the amount of physical air left in Jay’s tank. Jay finds himself a victim of sperm whale suction following his up-close observation of the whale’s battle with a giant squid. The only problem is that this very same squid ends up getting swallowed along with Jay. Both are very much alive as they head towards the whale’s undulating, compressing stomach chambers.

The squid, which Jay refers to by the proper name Architeuthis, latches on to him with a death grip around several parts of his body, including his throat. It is eventually squeezed to death by the whale’s stomach, which saves Jay from dying before he can attempt some sort of escape. However, he does retain the squid’s sharp beak, which he will need later on against the stubborn and oblivious innards of the whale.

Kraus’ writing becomes quite dreamlike and otherworldly, placing readers in the same kind of out-of-body experience that Jay is going through as he finds himself slowly dying in a dark and desolate place. Battered and bruised with a crushed eardrum, among other maladies, he desperately fights against the odds in an environment that may as well be outer space or the deepest part of the unchartered ocean. WHALEFALL begs to be read in a single sitting as it produces an unpredictable and satisfying ending.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 9, 2023

by Daniel Kraus