Whalefall is a complex, immersive, gut-wrenching story about the power of relentless perseverance and the will to survive. As a horror story, it’s really good, but what elevates it to greatness is the emotional tale of a seventeen-year-old boy struggling to survive the aftermath of a severely dysfunctional father/son relationship that culminated with the suicide of his overbearing father, leaving him drowning in overwhelming grief and guilt.
Thus, there are two fascinating stories of survival intertwined within the pages of Whalefall. Both stories are hypnotic, vivid, and bewitching, with lessons to be learned from each.
Jay Gardiner returns to dive in the deadly waters off Monastery Beach in a doomed attempt to recover the skeletal remains of his father from the sea that claimed him. If he can bring his father home, his mother and sister will forgive him – more importantly, Jay can finally forgive himself and come to terms with a lifetime of regrets and missed opportunities with his father. As Jay dives and descends to the ocean floor with only one hour of oxygen, he’s consumed by memories of former dives with his father and quickly gets lost in the dark labyrinths of his mind. Before he realizes it, he’s swimming over a mile-deep abyss, the depths of which no man has ever explored. Before Jay can swim back to safer waters, he becomes entangled in the tentacles of a giant squid being pursued by a sixty-ton sperm whale the size of a warehouse ascending from the depths of the unknown. When the whale swallows the squid, Jay is sucked into its mouth and swallowed, landing in the first of four stomachs. With nothing but his wits, the contents of the whale’s stomach, and his father’s voice in his head, Jay’s battle for survival begins. One hour. The clock’s ticking.
To say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Whalefall is a gross understatement. I’m not a huge fan of “horror”, but there was something about this story that spoke to me. From early on, it’s clear this is so much more than just a story of a boy surviving being swallowed by a whale. While that plot line is intriguing, it’s the emotional journey of Jay clawing his way from the dark, desolate depths of depression, despair, and grief that drew me in and held me captive. Kraus’s writing is hypnotic and oddly soothing, like the gentle waves of the ocean cradling you in the depths of its beauty and serenity, luring you in like a siren’s song while blinding you to the danger lurking. Like Jay, I became mesmerized by the amazing visual canvas of the underwater world expertly painted by this talented author, enhanced by the power of his lyrical prose as he delivers a tale of hope in the face of indescribable grief and horror. Through short past/present chapters, the author delivers a masterpiece while utilizing Jay’s inner dialogue with his father to capture the essence of his broken heart and dreams. As his oxygen decreases and hallucinations set in, muddling his thoughts and memories, Jay’s driven onward by his father’s voice in his mind – Sleepers, Arise!
Daniel Kraus’s rendering of this tale of survival is brilliant, simply consuming readers alive just as the whale swallowed Jay alive. Throughout the story, the dual battles for survival rage as a boy at the lowest point in his life, both physically and mentally, perseveres. Whalefall is an emotionally laden, scientifically accurate study of the ocean and its creatures, as well as the devastating, lifelong destruction of relationships caused by a dysfunctional family. Highly recommended to fans of suspense, horror, and beautifully rendered tales of redemption.
More Sci-fi Thrillers