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Gus Openshaw's Whale-Killing Journal - Reviews

Here's what some fancy writer folks think about the book.

Kirkus Reviews:

A blogger-slash-whaler goes hunting for his prey in the Caribbean-where the waters are shark-infested, the crew is always on the verge of mutiny and absurd plot twists arrive with every other paragraph.

Thomson's raucous comedy of errors is the tale of Gus Openshaw, a worker at a cat-food cannery who spends his summer hot on the trail of the "blubbery bastard" who swallowed his wife, child and right arm. Openshaw obsessively details his pursuit on his blog, and he's a little surprised to learn that his readership knows of other obsessive, one-limbed whalers. ("I've been calling [the whale] 'Dickhead,' " he writes. "Everybody always laughs and says that's a witty reference. Hell if I know why.") Joining him on the trip are a short-tempered, murderous cook, a deckhand who's addicted to hull cleaner, the appropriately named Stupid George (who at one point heaves a harpoon handle-first) and Flarq, a Queequeg-like deckhand who draws "scrimshaws" of the events in the story (illustrations appear throughout). Thomson constantly subverts the narrative by concocting increasingly ridiculous turns of events-Openshaw's sued for libeling Dickhead on his blog, after which he falls for the Princess of Whales, the ruler of a small whale-worshipping island who, in turn, happens to work for a black-market arms dealer who appears at crucial moments with, say, a prosthetic arm, or an F-15 fighter jet. Yet Thomson never loses his grip on the plot-he works hard to make the story hang together logically; the brief, blog-length chapters, meanwhile, keep the jokes punchy and entertaining. If Moby-Dick was a richly symbolic work about the whole of human experience, this is just an assortment of riffs on adventure tales, love stories and human idiocy in general. Thomson is no Melville, but there's no question who's the better gag-writer.

Dumb fun, smartly imagined.


Entertainment Weekly:

Here we have a novel – could it be the first of its kind? – purporting to be the reprint of a blog. Gus Openshaw is an absurdist Ahab, a middle-aged cat-food cannery employee who has lost his wife, child, and right arm to a blubbery sea beast – "he'd be pushing the max if they had Big & Tall stores for sperm whales" – and who sets sail seeking vengeance. His blog entries describe silly encounters with pirates, a preppy dungeon master, a psychotic cook, the whale-huggers of "Bluepeace," and a nonagenarian navigator, among others. The love interest is his arms dealer's raven-haired intern, who's sold him a remote-controlled robotic giant squid. This is all fairly amusing and entirely inconsequential – an anti-Moby Dick. Grade: B



If you read only one happy-go-lucky account of whale slaughter this year...

Gus Openshaw is just your average joe, seeking to make a life with his wife and new son. When his plans are thwarted by an angry whale (who swallows his family whole, along with Gus's right arm), Gus must find a way to make that all-too-common transition from humble catfood cannery worker into whale hunting avenger. This is easier said than done, especially considering that in these kinder, gentler days whale killing is generally frowned upon. One is certain to become entangled in all sorts of legal fiascos. But that's only the beginning - mutinous crews, renegade princesses, foreign navies, discount arms dealers, and (of course) pirates all serve to make Gus's adventures a sight more interesting than he'd like.

Readers of Keith Thomson's previous work, "Pirates of Pensacola" (which I hereby declare the official 2005 Bilgemunky Book of the Year) will recognize several nods and references as Gus travels throughout the Caribbean, including occasional visits to the Spice Islands. Also familiar will be Thomson's love of creating unique, bizarre, quirky, and dangerous characters, and then putting them into a world just skew of reality. But where "Pirates of Pensacola" was kept in check enough to be nearly believable, with "Gus Openshaw" Thomson has thrown caution to the wind entirely, allowing mechanical squids, mind-bogglingly stupid crewmates, and Bob the Rat to make frequent appearances. But by casting all observations through the eyes of Gus's dry, blue-collar matter-of-fact personality, even the ludicrous becomes almost believable, and highly comical.

Ivy-league torturers named Kip, farts used as an offensive weapon, whale-worshipping island nations with broadband internet connections, Yahoo – it's all here, and it's all good.


John Ol' Chumbucket Bauer, Co-Founder of Talk Like A Pirate Day and author of the book Pirattitude:

Move over Melville! Outta the way, Ahab! In the world of obsessed whalers, Gus Openshaw and his crew of misfits (and that's being kind) are second to none as they chase a rogue whale across the Seven Seas – pursued by lawyers, pirates, several navies, and a tribe of Caribbean whale worshippers. Keith Thomson (author of the side-splitting novel Pirates of Pensacola) has done it again with this hilarious adventure of a bad-luck captain single-mindedly chasing the whale dubbed 'the Blubbery Bastard' to exact revenge for the loss of his wife, son and arm. Gus Openshaw's Whale-Killing Journal beats the classic Moby-Dick on every count—it's a lot shorter, has more amazing adventures, is far less likely to be assigned as school reading, and is much, much funnier.

© all rights reserved, Keith Thomson