Whalefall by Daniel Kraus
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: August 8, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Horror, Suspense
The writer’s imagination never ceases to amaze me. How even the smallest bit of news can catch their eye and be alchemized into stories far beyond the wildest imaginings of the rest of us. For Daniel Kraus, it was a small newspaper article about a diver who’d been caught in the mouth of a whale for mere moments before being pushed back out. This tidbit led him to wonder what would happen if a whale fully ingested a human being. The answer, as found in Whale Fall, is an amalgam of horror, science, marine biology, life, spiritualism, and suspense.
When Jay Gardiner takes to the treacherous waters off the coast of Northern California to look for his father’s remains he has no idea what he’s getting himself into. He’s grown up in these waters thanks to a father whose passions were the ocean and diving. So much so that Jay couldn’t live up to his expectations or bear the resulting anger, leaving home when he was 15. When Whalefall begins he’s 17, it’s a year after his father’s suicide, and he hopes the retrieval of his father’s remains will bring him and his family closure.
His search takes him to the edge of an underwater canyon known to be 6,000 feet deep where he comes upon a giant squid. What he doesn’t realize is that the squid is coming so close to the surface because it’s being pursued by a 60 ton, 80’ sperm whale on the hunt. In the ensuing battle between the two giants, Jay gets tangled with the squid and both are inhaled by the whale.
What follows is a novel compressed in every way. Jay has one hour of oxygen in his tank and Whalefall takes place entirely in one of the whale’s four stomachs. The fact that a whale has four stomachs is just one of the minute internal details of a mammoth beast Kraus shares in an effort to make the impossible seem plausible. I’ll stop there, but suffice it to say this novel could count as a college level course in marine biology.
I couldn’t put Whalefall down, but at the same time I skimmed parts of it, being disinterested in the more grotesque aspects of whale anatomy and what a human might need to do to escape such an environment. It’s a bold, creative choice, but a story that takes place inside a dark, fetid area is a hard atmosphere to maintain. For those who aren’t squeamish about one mammal narrating from inside the intestinal tract of another and who enjoy race-against-time novels that put humans in seemingly impossible situations (like The Martian) Whalefall is unique entertainment.
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