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Thoughts on “The Snow Whale” by John Minichillo

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo was sent to me for review by Atticus Books. It will be published on July 30, 2011.

About the Book:

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo (cover)John Jacobs is stuck in a dead end job, selling corporate knickknacks out of a cubicle. Meanwhile, his wife, Jessica, divides her time between spending their money, teaching ballroom dancing, and criticizing John on the phone with her mother. Though neither John nor Jessica knows quite how it happened, it’s clear they are stuck in a rut.

Then John’s coworker takes a DNA test and discovers he’s part Mongolian. The euphoria of connecting with his heritage and the elaborate trip he’s planning make John long for a little excitement and meaning of his own. He takes his own DNA test and finds out he’s part Inuit. So begins John’s own quest to embrace and experience his heritage, the centerpiece of which is the centuries-old tradition and Inupiat tribal right: the annual whale hunt.

My Thoughts:

I must start by saying two things: first, that The Snow Whale is a modern retelling of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and second, that I have — *gasp* — never read Moby Dick. So, I cannot compare the two, nor can I speak as someone who has the authority to fully judge The Snow Whale. All I can do is relate my experience of reading The Snow Whale as its own book — which, I must say, was quite enjoyable.

There were parts of Minichillo’s debut that had me giggling with delight, usually because of a consistently entertaining couple of characters as well as some sly, clever writing on the author’s part. Minichillo writes in a way that makes you want to get behind John and his adventure, despite its frequent absurdity. I loved John’s sidekick, and a particular scene at REI felt all too familiar. I liked that Minichillo spent time with Jessica as well as John, giving me a glimpse of what was going on back in reality while John was off reclaiming his heritage.

The whole novel felt a bit exaggerated, less like a tale I sunk into with disbelief suspended and more like intellectual candy on which to suck. The story lay just beyond the grasp of believability for me, but I don’t think believability was the point. I think more familiarity with Moby Dick may have changed my feelings, as I suspect The Snow Whale mirrors its inspiration more closely than it does actual reality. Still, I didn’t mind at all.

I cannot place John Minichillo’s debut novel in its literary context, but I can say that The Snow Whale certainly stands alone quite well. The bottom line? The Snow Whale is a strong debut and a thoroughly entertaining read. It’s quick, fun, and clever — even if the copy of Moby Dick you’ve had for years remains, like mine, unread!

Those are my thoughts. Check out The Snow Whale by John Minichillo on Goodreads or LibraryThing!

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  • http://bookspersonally.blogspot.com bookspersonally

    Fantastic review (loving the intellectual candy) – sounds like a great read. (Haven’t read Moby Dick either… though I read Ahab’s Wife… does that count for anything?)

    • Erin

      I have Ahab’s Wife on my shelf! I think that was my solution for having no desire to read Moby Dick, though I haven’t gotten around to either.

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I love novels that are just this side of absurd, so I think I would really like this one. John sounds like a really interesting guy, and the adventure he decides to go on does stretch credibility, but in a good way. I will be looking out for this one. Thanks for the amazing review, Erin!

    • Erin

      Yes, it sounds like you’d like this one, then!

  • http://bookchatter.net Ti

    I read Moby Dick last year and let me tell you, this HAS to be better than that!

    I like the sound of this one. Quite different even though it’s a modern take of MD.

    • Erin

      Haha! Maybe I should be glad I haven’t read the original? I didn’t find The Snow Whale to be awful at all, so perhaps the author successfully made a dreadful classic into a fun modern novel!

  • http://theeclecticreader.wordpress.com/ carolinareads

    I have never read Moby Dick because the book kind of scares me, but this one seems great. I’m a sucker for retellings

    • Erin

      Agreed, Moby Dick is scary! This one stands alone really well, though, so perhaps you’d like it.

  • http://fatbooks.org Ellen

    Given that I slept through half of Moby Dick, I’m not sure why I get interested in a book as soon as I hear “retelling of Moby Dick”…maybe it’s something not to question too much, or maybe the attraction is just that I figure (as Ti wrote) any retelling has got to be better than the original. This book sounds intriguing, I may have to check it out.

    • Erin

      The Snow Whale definitely isn’t boring! From what I’m reading about everyone’s loathing of Moby Dick, the author of The Snow Whale did an excellent job making the old classic into something appealing and fun. Sounds like I’m not missing anything at all by reading this retelling instead of the original!

  • http://carolsnotebook.wordpress.com carol

    I’ve never read Moby Dick either and don’t have any desire to. Your review is great, but it sounds like a book I can feel okay about skipping.

    • Erin

      I’m not too eager to read the original, either!

  • http://www.stephandtonyinvestigate.com Steph

    This sounds really great, even though, like you, I’ve never read Moby Dick, although I do have a really lovely copy of it just waiting for me. I think the premise of this one sounds really unique and it looks like Minichillo brings some really interesting aspects to his retelling rather than it being derivative. Also, that cover is gorgeous! 😀

    • Erin

      From what I’m hearing from other commenters, I’m not missing much by not reading the original! Yes, I think the author does some rather creative things instead of just updating the old classic. Isn’t the cover lovely? Every cover Atticus Books has is stunning.

  • http://homeofaimala.blogspot.com/ Amy

    I am definitely intrigued by an author whp writes a modern version of Moby Dick…especially when it’s written with humor and cleverness. I think you have to be a little nutty to want to take on Moby Dick and, as Ti said, it can’t be worse then Moby Dick! And The Snow Whale sounds quite a bit better. I’m putting this somewhat exaggerated, a little bit unbelievable, slightly absurd book on my tbr list!

    • Erin

      Haha, yes, that’s so true! I haven’t read the original, but from what I’m hearing, I’m not missing anything. I definitely enjoyed The Snow Whale and think it works really well even if you’ve not read the Melville. I hope you enjoy this one, Amy!

  • http://jennysbooks.wordpress.com Jenny

    Hahaha, I can hardly express to you the extent to which I did not gasp at the revelation that you haven’t read Moby Dick. I always hope — for their own sake — that people haven’t read Moby Dick. I had to read it for school TWICE, a fate I think should be precluded by the Eighth Amendment, and I wanted to gouge my eyes all the way out of my head. The gist is, There’s a whale, Captain Ahab wants it, he’s super obsessed, and his super-obsession leads to no good. The end.

    • Erin

      Twice? Whoa. Well then, I’m not too worried about this particular gap in my literary knowledge. The Snow Whale is a bit more complex than your brief summary, so I’m glad I went with that one instead of the original!

  • http://www.buriedinprint.com BuriedInPrint

    I haven’t read Moby Dick either, but was quite amused to find that the main character in Jeff Smith’s Bone series is obsessed with it…he almost has me thinking about…oh, never mind…

    • Erin

      Huh, I didn’t know that! I know…I keep thinking “well…maybe…” :-)

  • http://stacybuckeye.wordpress.com/ stacybuckeye

    I’ve never read Moby Dick either and see no reason to :)