Book Review: Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino

A month or so ago several breast cancer survivors, including myself, were asked to review Belly of the Whale by new author, Linda Merlino. Never one to turn away a free book, I eagerly agreed. Upon reading the book, however, I realized my perspective as a breast cancer survivor may have skewed my opinion.

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 book opens with Hudson Catalina on a stretcher in Whale’s Market the morning after a crazed gunman holds the occupants hostage. The story spans the previous 24 hours and as she lays there unsure as to whether she’s dead or alive she begins to think back on the previous day’s events. Sadly, the day before wasn’t such a good one since she had totally given up hope.

As I read the book I had a hard time identifying with Hudson. Frankly I don’t know anybody who felt that extent of despair while going through treatment for breast cancer. Granted her mother had passed from the disease twenty-some years earlier, but that was twenty-some years earlier. Treatment has come so far since then.
Also, we never know what type of cancer it is, what stage, how aggressive, etc., and that could play a part.

Her one saving grace, in my opinion, is that she does admit to being a bit dramatic. Still, I don’t know of a single mother who would spend any length of time considering the things she does. I found her to be an extremely selfish drama queen and rather annoying. That attitude, however, is what allows her to grow and get a new perspective while at the market.

While not my preferred type of read, Belly of the Whale has redeeming qualities in Hudson Catalina’s change of outlook and the interesting characters she interacts with in the market. It probably wouldn’t be something a current breast cancer patient would be interested in reading – it may hit too close to home or her attitude about her circumstances could be depressing. But it might appeal to readers of suspense.


  1. Gretchen on October 20, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Can’t love ’em all, right? But free is good.

  2. Lynilu on October 20, 2008 at 11:46 am

    “Granted her mother had passed from the disease twenty-some years earlier, but that was twenty-some years earlier. Treatment has come so far since then.”Yes, but …. I don’t have the experience with cancer, now have I read the book. But I know that I have times when I worry about my future when I have a series of forgetful moments. My mom’s Alzheimer’s certainly planted a seed of fear in my that, while it doesn’t consume me, is there and niggles at me. We all deal with our “stuff” differently, I guess.

  3. God's Guitar Girl on October 20, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I think Lynilu may be onto something. Perhaps she was so overwhelmed about a completely separated situation that she couldn’t see the difference between the two. “Griefbrain” can make you function in ways that don’t make sense to others, and many times you don’t function the way you normally would because there’s something screwing with your logic. Although 20 years is a pretty significant chunk of time, I suspect she’s got a lot of baggage she never dealt with concerning her mom and it’s coming into play now that BC is back in her life now.I can also see how you would be completely irritated with her. I have the same problem with people in my shoes who, many years later, still have to pry themselves out of bed just to function. My reaction is usually “snap out of it” or some other term. I know that’s not nice, nor does it extend grace. I promise I’ve never said this out loud!! But I am thinking it. I just look at my life and know that I couldn’t indulge myself in that kind of behavior b/c of my situation. And goodness sakes — don’t you want to move on to a point where you don’t feel this way? It’s hard for me to identify as well.Interesting review!

  4. Jenster on October 20, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    There is a lot more to the book than I’m willing to talk about for fear it may spoil it for someone who wants to read it. But I will say this. She is the mother to three children, her youngest’s 5th birthday coming up.I realize I have a pragmatist’s attitude (as do most BC women I know), but I would fight as hard and as long as I had to just for my kids. I think that’s what bothered me the most about her attitude.

  5. Cheryl on October 20, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Doesn’t sound like my type of book. I’m glad you were honest about your feelings about it. I love book reviews, so thanks for doing this.

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