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Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino

Belly of the Whale

by Linda Merlino

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I almost decided against reading Linda Merlino's book, Belly of the Whale. It hits too close to home. Breast cancer has affected not only my mother and both of my grandmother's, but I lost a friend to cancer this past summer and the wound is still too fresh. Even just thinking about her now, the tears well up in my eyes. She was such a strong soul. Outwardly, she never wavered in her faith and hope, but I imagine there were times when she did doubt and feel angry at the circumstances she was in much like Linda Merlino’s protagonist, Hudson Catalina.

Hudson Catalina's mother was a victim to breast cancer, losing her battle when Hudson was 14 years old. It was very difficult on the Catalina family, and Hudson took her mother's illness and death hard. She worried, too, that one day her own fate would be similar to her mother's, and it turned out she was right. Her battle with breast cancer sapped everything out of Hudson. She was tired and angry. She woke up one morning, having lost all faith and hope. Her husband and best friend, ever the optimists, did not understand the low that Hudson had reached. They weren't ready to give up--never would be most likely. Hudson felt alone.

Hudson's new resolve that her death to cancer was on the horizon would be challenged in a way she could never have anticipated. A night visit to the local market to pick up last minute party supplies for her daughter's 5th birthday would change her life forever.

Ruby Desmond, owner of the Whales Market, is strong in her faith and has led a full life. She knows what it is like to have suffered great loss. She understands a little bit about how Hudson must be feeling and Hudson finds herself drawn to the woman and her stories about the past. Willy Wu is also working that night at the market. Willy Wu is a simple man with special needs. It is obvious he cares about Ruby immensely and takes his job seriously. With a fierce storm carrying on outside the doors of the market, the three settle in for a long night not realizing that danger was just around the corner.

Linda Merlino captures the emotions of the characters in such a way that had me feeling what they were feeling as the story unfolded. What stood out the most to me was Hudson’s feeling of despair and complete loss of hope. Similarly, there is the character of Buddy Baker, who was in an even darker place for he had given up long ago. Buddy has had a difficult life. He is a product of his environment and as a result is full of anger and pain. He is in a downward spiral with no end in sight, and I felt that with every turn of the page.

Belly of the Whale is a moving story about one woman's internal struggle with the fate she has been dealt. And yet it is also a story about family and friendship as well as one of courage and hope even in the most tragic of circumstances. The story builds bit by bit, humor suffused with very serious situations. Linda Merlino is a talented writer who has written a heart wrenching story that had me in tears by the end. ( )
  LiteraryFeline | Nov 2, 2008 |
For many mothers, the eve of their daughter’s fifth birthday would be cause for celebration. For Hudson Catalina, it’s anything but.

After a long battle with breast cancer, Hudson is tired. She’s tired of the toxic treatments that leave her sick for days, tired of putting on a brave face for family and friends, tired of imagining her children’s lives without a mother. She has given up all hope of beating the disease that claimed her mother’s life when Hudson was just 14 years old. She decides to stop her treatments and resign herself to her fate.

But fate has something else in mind for Hudson Catalina. A trip to the Whales Market for cupcake decorations for her daughter’s birthday turns into a night of terror. Held hostage by a former student, Hudson regains her will to live, but has it come too late?

Linda Merlino effectively portrays Hudson’s hopelessness and despair, while still giving the reader a sense of her underlying strength and, eventually, her hope. At just under 200 pages, Belly of the Whale is a quick read, but its enduring and inspirational message will stay with you long after you read the final page. ( )
  BookishRuth | Oct 29, 2008 |
I don't go out of my way to trash someone else's hard work.

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. ( )
  lakingston | Oct 21, 2008 |
In Belly of the Whale, Linda Merlino does an excellent job of creating a character who feels what every woman, and specifically every mother, imagines she would feel if she had cancer. The struggle to hold on to hope, the fight not to give in to fear and what-ifs. (What if I don't live to see my child's next birthday, let alone her high school graduation?)

For that reason I was able to identify and sympathize with Hudson Catalina. I think this emotional aspect, Merlino's ability to get inside Hudson's head and give the reader such a realistic and believable look at the feelings associated with fighting cancer and confronting one's own mortality lies at the heart of this novel.

The story takes place in one day, with pertinent details from the past filled in via Hudson's own reflections. On this day, Hudson goes to the supermarket to buy party supplies for her daughter's birthday and ends up being held hostage by a sick, tormented and violent former student. This is where the suspense aspect of the novel comes into play and you won't know until the last sentence if Hudson survives the ordeal or not. ( )
1 vote schmadeke | Oct 14, 2008 |
Belly of the Whale is an intense story of the power of finding faith and discovering a long forgotten inner strength. It is a story of one woman's battle, her resignation to die, then finding the determination to live.

Linda Merlino does a superb job of bringing her characters to life and allowing the reader to feel each and every emotion through them. Hudson is a young mother and beloved wife who has learned she has cancer. After losing her own mother at a young age to cancer, this has always been Hudson's greatest fear. Now, after deciding her fate, she is gearing herself up to celebrate her daughter's 5th birthday, the final birthday that she will be on earth to celebrate with her daughter.

Hudson decides she wants to make this birthday extra special and takes a trip, during a late evening snow storm, to Wales Market to pick up party supplies. While there, she sits and visits with the Market's owner, Ruby. Ruby settles in and tells Hudson many stories from her past, bringing a spark of long lost hope to Hudson. Just as Hudson is about to leave to go home, a tragic turn of events occurs to change every one's lives forever.

With heart wrenching and soul gripping detail, the author weaves a wonderful and constant page turning story that is difficult to put down. Belly of the Whale takes the reader into a deep and dark emotional world; a world that continues long after the final page has been turned.

Belly of the Whale is far from a light read. It is highly thought provoking and a wonderful story of regaining hope and taking back control of a life once thought to be near its end. A great story and one that I would recommend.

*Overall rating: 4.5/5 ( )
  ajpohren | Oct 13, 2008 |
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"A too-real fictional account of a teacher and mother who is a terminal cancer patient and has stopped all treatment but who decides to fight back when an ex-student Buddy Baker threatens her life"--Provided by publisher.

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