About the Book:
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.
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!