The Whale Chaser: A Novel
By Tony Ardizzone (Chicago Review Press, 2015)
The Whale Chaser begins and ends with a moment of transcendence: “The summer that I sent letters of apology to all the people I’d known back in Chicago, all the people I’d hurt, when I began to piece together the two disconnected halves of my life.” Vincent Sansone’s colorful life is full of lost loves and broken promises that lead to his present as a whaling guide—a job in which the sense of search feels natural.
Novelist Tony Ardizzone moves seamlessly between the pre-Vatican II American Midwest and Tofino, British Columbia of the late 1970s. Both settings are richly drawn. Vincent’s Italian-Catholic childhood is captured through the intersection of innocent faith and adolescent doubt. In one authentically rendered scene, young Vincent’s family raves about the free neckbones received from the butcher; “But if I were made to pay a nickel or dime for them, or God forbid, all of 15 or 20 cents, my parents would find a thousand faults with the bones.” In the same vein, Vincent is never satisfied. Marie, his first love, is described in positively Marian terms, but his heart strays.
Telling the story through alternating time periods allows Ardizzone to show how Vincent’s youth reverberates to his present. Traditional, conservative Chicago is a sharp contrast to the free love milieu of Tofino. Vincent is shrewd enough to see the cracks in that world. Dialogue-heavy party scenes are followed by swaths of contemplative description about winters on the sound: “It’s as if all the day is a gray, wet funeral.”
It is under those skies that Vincent seeks forgiveness from those he has wronged over the years. Some ignore him, while others react with anger. Yet this element of the novel is positively sacramental. Of forgiveness, Vincent wonders, “Does life offer us any greater grace?” The Whale Chaser is tale of a man’s continual chase for both self and soul.
This review appeared in the October 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 10, page 41).