Jenster's Musings

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review: Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino

A month or so ago several breast cancer survivors, including myself, were asked to review Belly of the Whale by new author, Linda Merlino. Never one to turn away a free book, I eagerly agreed. Upon reading the book, however, I realized my perspective as a breast cancer survivor may have skewed my opinion.

Hudson Catalina has given up. Having lost both breasts to cancer, she is emotionally and physically exhausted, no longer willing to endure the nausea and crushing weakness that chemotherapy causes. Until the wrecked-by-life young Buddy Baker arrives, bent on murder. Linda Merlino’s harrowing, touching story of despair, abuse, murder and survival takes you on a journey through the darkest places of the human mind and spirit, and in the end leads you back out of “the belly of the whale” enriched by the experience.

The book opens with Hudson Catalina on a stretcher in Whale’s Market the morning after a crazed gunman holds the occupants hostage. The story spans the previous 24 hours and as she lays there unsure as to whether she’s dead or alive she begins to think back on the previous day’s events. Sadly, the day before wasn’t such a good one since she had totally given up hope.

As I read the book I had a hard time identifying with Hudson. Frankly I don’t know anybody who felt that extent of despair while going through treatment for breast cancer. Granted her mother had passed from the disease twenty-some years earlier, but that was twenty-some years earlier. Treatment has come so far since then.
Also, we never know what type of cancer it is, what stage, how aggressive, etc., and that could play a part.

Her one saving grace, in my opinion, is that she does admit to being a bit dramatic. Still, I don’t know of a single mother who would spend any length of time considering the things she does. I found her to be an extremely selfish drama queen and rather annoying. That attitude, however, is what allows her to grow and get a new perspective while at the market.

While not my preferred type of read, Belly of the Whale has redeeming qualities in Hudson Catalina’s change of outlook and the interesting characters she interacts with in the market. It probably wouldn’t be something a current breast cancer patient would be interested in reading – it may hit too close to home or her attitude about her circumstances could be depressing. But it might appeal to readers of suspense.

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