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One Christmas Eve, Whale Harbor is visited by a man who thinks he’s Jesus and claims to be looking for a game of poker. But, as usual, things are not quite what they seem. Having some version of the Lord in town for his birthday creates a strange effect on the locals: unlikely couples are breaking up and making up and making out; a luxury mobile home that belonged to an elderly couple from New Jersey (until they disappeared after a run-in with “the Lord”) is won by a down-on-his-luck gambler in an unbelievable ...
One Christmas Eve, Whale Harbor is visited by a man who thinks he’s Jesus and claims to be looking for a game of poker. But, as usual, things are not quite what they seem. Having some version of the Lord in town for his birthday creates a strange effect on the locals: unlikely couples are breaking up and making up and making out; a luxury mobile home that belonged to an elderly couple from New Jersey (until they disappeared after a run-in with “the Lord”) is won by a down-on-his-luck gambler in an unbelievable hand of poker; the area’s most well-known and long-forgotten tourist attraction is rising up from a hole in the ground; and a gun no one has used in years is suddenly in hot demand. In the steamy climes of southern Florida, you take your miracles where you can get them—and if that means being led to salvation by a schizophrenic with a rap sheet, so be it. In the rollicking tradition of Carl Hiaasen’s Tourist Season, with the heart of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, and peopled by the kind of colorful characters who would be quite at home in any Tom Robbins novel, N. M. Kelby’s Whale Season is a sharp and funny novel made up of equal parts comic adventure and serial-killer inspired mayhem.
“Whale Season is purely delightful—rich, clever, and crawling with affectionately twisted characters. Nicole Kelby is a natural-born storyteller who manages to be very funny and very wise at the same time.” —Carl Hiaasen
“Kelby has created a crazy-quilt of unforgettable characters. You won’t find whales in Whale Harbor but you will find ancient bluesmen, alligators in Minnie Pearl hats, sexy strip club owners with dreams of franchising, floundering RV salesmen, and the wackiest serial killer in modern fiction. Strap yourself in, it’s one helluva ride.” —J. A. Konrath, author of Bloody Mary
“Poignant, hilarious, and melancholy, N. M. Kelby’s strikingly entertaining novel feels like being on a theme park ride with Carl Hiaasen as tour guide. This is the real deal.” —Will Staeger, bestselling author of Painkiller
Praise for N. M. Kelby’s Previous Work
“Kelby’s lovely language fuses sensuous specificity with metaphoric resonance. . . . To paraphrase and summarize such fine-spun fiction must inevitably be as inadequate as any attempt to retell your most amazing dream the morning after.” —New York Times Book Review
“Luscious and heartrending . . . overflows with miracles.” —Atlantic Monthly
There are no whales in Whale Harbor, Florida. Never have been. The town was named during the Civil War as a way to lure Union soldiers looking for food and oil. It worked. So the name stuck.
But there are no whales.
Still, for many years, people came to whale watch. Some even thought they saw them. Blue whales, southern rights, humpback, killer, beaked, and beluga-as the subtropical temperatures rose, all manners of sightings, aided by tour guides offering free beer, were imagined in great detail. Written about in travel magazines.
But there are no whales.
Never have been.
This is why historians identify Whale Harbor as America's first tourist trap.
So those who come to this particular thicket of Florida's coast usually fall into two categories-the bushwhacked and the dreamers. Those who stay are both.
It's Christmas Eve and most of the town is at The Pink drinking eggnog schnapps. It's two for the price of one, in honor of the holiday. The jukebox is cranked, full volume. Jimmy Buffet asks, "How'd you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?" Nobody answers. Shot glasses surround hunched shoulders like picket fences.
The Pink's an all-purpose place. Up front, you can still buy bread and milk. Moon Pies, two for a buck. In the back, at the bar, you can still get your heart broken. Leadbelly whistles and jingles the blues. Christmas lights blink all year long across the tarpaper walls.
Right now, Leon should be there buying a round for Carlotta. She's been waiting for him for an hour, or more. Her tongue is white from the schnapps, and fuzzy. But he's not there. She looks at her watch again, the fourth time in ten minutes. Orders another round.
Bender pours the drinks in two deft streams. Schnapps arches like a waterfall. An impressive sight. Bender owns the place. He's also mayor. Hawkeyed and thin, in his early fifties, his spiky gray hair is dyed red and green for the holiday. It's a seasonal habit of his. At Easter, he'll go purple. He slides the two shot glasses in front of Carlotta. Tops them off with whipped cream and sprinkles that match his hair.
Carlotta looks up. "Thanks-"
And then he barks a noble clear bark. "Scottish terrier," he explains. Turns away before Carlotta has a chance to ask why he's impersonating a small hunting dog.
Most know not to ask.
Carlotta is new in town. She doesn't know anyone, but they all know her. At least, they know who she is: she's Leon's girl. That's the reason Sheriff Trot Jeeter is sitting three stools away and trying hard not to stare. But it is difficult. She's single. He's single. And, in the dim light of The Pink, Carlotta has a 1940s Veronica Lake kind of glamour. Boozy. Sultry. Bored. Her thick hair is carefully parted to one side, covers half her face. Trot can't take his eyes off her.
Of course, that's not surprising. He's forty-one years old. If he doesn't get married soon he'll have to get a dog-one that barks a lot. Scottish terrier sounds pretty good right about now.
The problem with Sheriff Trot Jeeter is not that he's unattractive. He's just unremarkable. Average height, average weight, average build-you couldn't pick him out of a lineup if you had to. Through the years he's grown comfortable in his absolute lack of distinction, the unnerving way he sometimes fades from memory while he's still in the room. And so, out of habit, his eyes never make contact, always seem to be...
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
In this wacky, laugh-out-loud comedy with a dark side, a serial killer who believes he is Jesus arrives in the small town of Whale Harbor, Florida, on Christmas Eve. In rapid succession, the down-but-not-out gambler Leon bets it all on the American Dream (a giant, brand-spanking-new recreational vehicle, of course), strip-club owner Dagmar gets her blues-playing Buddhist father Jimmy Ray to admit his paternity, and a drunk and celebratory Leon accidentally sets his home ablaze, leading everyone to believe he’s dead. Add in a mayor who dies his hair with Jell-O, a sheriff whose mom still buys his underwear, and a psychopath in a loincloth, and you have the perfect recipe for murder and mayhem–Florida-style.
This guide is designed to help you direct your reading group’s discussion of N.M. Kelby’s delightfully screwball novel Whale Season.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1) The book offers a veritable panoply of vibrant, strange, and original characters. Who is your favorite character, and why?
2) Many fantastic and outrageous events occur in Whale Season. Do you feel the story is more of a farce or an allegory? Are there any myths, legends, or tales the book brings to mind?
3) How did you feel about Leon when he was first introduced? Did you find his character sympathetic? Did your feelings about him change as the story progressed? Why or why not?
4) Doctor/Jesus is often referred to as having “bible eyes.” What do you think this phrase means?
5) Why do you think Jimmy Ray and Dagmar had never discussed the possibility that they were related before Doctor/Jesus came to town?
6) “Everybody’s got to have a moral code,” Leon asserts (page 61). This seems to be true for many of Whale Harbor’s residents. As a used RV salesman, Leon’s code of honor is “ignorance is bliss.” Contrast the morals of Jimmy Ray, Leon, Trot, Dagmar, and Doctor/Jesus. Who seems best served by their personal world view?
7) “Florida is heaven’s waiting room.” (page 41) “Jesus is everywhere in Florida. It’s as if it’s his winter headquarters.” (page 8) Does the author have a love/hate relationship with the state of Florida? Could this book have taken place anywhere else and retained the same feeling?
8) What does the lack of whales in Whale Harbor symbolize to you? Do you believe their appearance at the novel’s end is real?
9) “You stopped to pick me up because you want to believe in miracles; that’s not such a bad thing,” Doctor/Jesus says to Dagmar (page 70). It seems that everyone in Whale Harbor is more than willing to accept the presence of a man who thinks he is Jesus at Christmas–even a Jesus that kind-of gives them the creeps. Why do you think that is?
10) Religion and belief play a huge role in the novel. Do you think religion–both as a concept and a practice–is treated with respect or disrespect here?
11) Dagmar inherited the Dream Caf? from her uncle. She says she doesn’t have the stomach for the business and yet turned the caf? into a profitable enterprise that she hopes to franchise. How do you feel about Dagmar and what she’s done with her life? Would you invite her to join your book club? Would you be her friend?
12) “It’s the Hallmark card of death, don’t you think? Killed by the American Dream–how perfect a death is that for a Buddhist?” Doctor/Jesus asks Jimmy Ray (page 276). How appropriate a symbol of the American Dream do you find the giant RV to be? Dagmar says it’s “not my dream, but somebody’s” (page 69). Do you think the author offers judgments about her characters based on who might or might not call the RV their dream?
13) Do you think Doctor/Jesus would have been able to go through with killing Jimmy Ray? Do you think Jimmy Ray would ultimately have tried to defend himself? Is it possible that Jimmy Ray had made his peace with dying, despite what he told Doctor/Jesus?
14) Did the ending come as a surprise to you? Were you satisfied with the resolution of each character’s story? Is there any character (or characters) you wish had been given a different outcome?
15) Bender, the bartender/Mayor, barks as a form of prayer and encourages everyone to find their own inner dog. Please take a moment to find your own inner dog and bark accordingly.
Posted February 7, 2008
I just LOVE this book. The story is great and the cover art is retro and campy. The size makes it portable and readable anywhere, which is good because I couldn't put it down until it was over!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 6, 2006
This book had me in stitches. I was actually laughing out loud. Jimmy Ray is one of the best characters in American literature...a good man who wants to see the goodness in others. We need men like this, esp. when they are so dog gone funny. How is this not a role for Morgan Freeman?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2006
Sometimes I read a book, and all the characters are familiar, and that's comforting, especially if the plot is tense and/or twisted. Well, in Whale Season, none of these guys are famililar or comforting, and the plot is very twisted. I love this book. It just twist and twist away. It's a great book, especially to those readers who say they've read all of Chris Moore, or all of Carl Hiaasen, and now they need someone new, but like Moore and/or Hiaasen.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 14, 2010
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