Thursday, October 23, 2008

book review: "belly of the whale"

I try to only review things on my blog that I would recommend to others. When I don't enjoy a book that I have been asked to review, I usually keep the review over at Library Thing or don't review it at all.

I don't go out of my way to trash someone else's hard work.

Most of the time, if I write about it, I like it.

However, Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino is an exception.

This novel, a thriller, is about Hudson Catalina, a 38 year old mother to three kids with breast cancer, is badly written, heavy handed and manipulative from beginning to end.

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 cover art is garish and features a bald woman, cringing, as a tear rolls down her cheek. ( Also she has stubble. Honestly, if they couldn't find a woman who had really lost her hair to cancer, instead of a model with her head shaved, then they really shouldn't have bothered). I know that you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover but in this case, the cover told me almost everything about the book that I needed to know.

As a novel, this book is not just bad but jaw-droppingly bad. I had a list of examples of terrible writing and factual inaccuracies (I have post-its with exclamation marks on every other page) but I will spare you the lengthy list. The narrative is overwrought and repetitive. The dialogue is terrible and the characters speak in stereotypes.

Several of the women who write for Mothers With Cancer were asked to read and review this book as part breast cancer awareness month. I don't think very many of us liked it. And I don't think this book does anything to raise awareness about the real experience of breast cancer.

I agreed to review it because I was told that the author is a breast cancer survivor (although it doesn't say this anywhere on her web site, in the book or on its jacket) and because I do like to do book reviews. And there have been many, many books with breast cancer as a central theme that I have liked (The Middle Place is a good example).

I was worried that I was being to hard on the book because I live with breast cancer and I could not identify with this character (despite the similarity in our ages).

But bad writing is bad writing.

And exploitation is exploitation.

Do not read this book if you, or someone you love, is going through treatment.

Do not read this book if you like good writing.

And I for one, plan to think twice before I crack the spine of another book from Kunati Press.


Stales said...

Laurie -- thanks for publishing this review. As a breast cancer survivor, I'm horrified that something like this could even be published. This is beyond exploitation. The fact that a book like this can be published shows that society still needs to go a long to understanding, accepting, and living with cancer.

deb said...

I was just thinking the other day that you only post good book reviews, saying how much you enjoyed the book. Thanks for the warning on this one. No one should have to read a bad book, especially one like this.

Linda Merlino said... you hate the book, that's fair, I'm good with that. But I did not write a book about breast cancer, the book is about what we fear, and about stereotypes and what happens even when we let go of hope for one day. My mother is a breast cancer survivor, I was her caregiver. I never once intended to exploit the disease. One of my best friends died of breast cancer, it touches everyone it does not discriminate.
As an aside: I had nothing to do with the debut writer does.
My well,
Linda Merlino

laurie said...

Hi Linda, You may not have written about a book about breast cancer but I was approached to review it because I have it. And you may have had no say over the cover but I still object to it (and I did criticize Kunati Press, as well). I am sorry that I didn't like the book - I really wanted to.