“Belly of the Whale”, by Linda Merlino is the story of a day in the life of a mother of 4, Hudson Catalina, battling breast cancer. It is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts during a Nor’easter blizzard that has not been experienced in years. We follow Hudson through her morning of frustration with the disease and all that it entails. We travel on her road trip for chemo with her best friend and sister-in-law, Kathy and examine her relationships with the various people in her life. The story takes a turn for the worse, as the storm does, when her intentions to plan for the future of her daughter land her in Whales Market.
In Whales Market we meet characters that many of us have met in our own lives. Ruby, who guided by her strong faith provides wisdom. Willy Wu, a “Lamb of the Lord”, special in his own way. Buddy Baker, a person so damaged by the experiences and events that have occurred in his life that he forever changes those he unleashes his anger and wrath upon.
I personally had a difficult time reading part I of the story. I am a 30 month breast cancer survivor and found myself comparing and contrasting my experiences to Hudson Catalina. Hudson speaks of her feelings as she looks in the mirror, “I paused and saw the sunken eyes and sharp angles of my thinned face traced atop a neck so narrow that it disappeared into the collar of my robe.” That sentence alone took me back to the same face that I stared at in shock and disbelief when I was a cancer patient. I kept reading and started to enjoy the story more as it developed. As I read, I tried not to analyze Hudson but just experience her life.
Ruby is my favorite character, some of her phrases resonated with me, “A Mamma has got to do what a Momma has to do”, "The Lord puts us where we're supposed to be" and “I’ll tell you that life’s a circle and we go around like the spokes on a wheel. Sometimes we’re happy, our faces in the light, and sometimes the wheel thrusts us into the harsh places of darkness and despair. But we have to believe that it keeps going round, back into the light. Never give up hope.”
Linda Merlino has a descriptive style of writing that makes it easy to imagine the setting, her characters personalities and the events in their lives. After Part I, I found myself wanting to read chapter after chapter to see how Hudson’s emotions and experiences changed throughout the story. When I completed the book, I went back and reread part I. I found it much easier to read the second time around. I am not sure that I would recommend this book for someone currently in treatment although it does prove the point that in most circumstances there is always a situation that can be worse than the one you are currently going through. The story starts out "glass half-empty" but changes to "glass half-full" and therefore reiterates the message of never give up hope…