The Bookshelf: Fluke, Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore


Here is another book I found basically by accident.  My local Borders happens to have some people with similar tastes in books as I do… and I often find myself checking out their staff picks and various end-caps they set up.  One day I happened upon a Christopher Moore end-cap… and for whatever reason I began reading some of the blurbs on the back covers, and this particular book, 2003’s Fluke, Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings stood out to me.  Sure… national bestseller… Today’s Book Club (that didn’t sway me much)… weird and rather goofy title… but the basic premise sounded both outlandish and fun… my curiosity was piqued.

Nathan Quinn is a marine biologist working in Maui, trying to understand why humpback whales sing.  One day while he and his assistant Amy are out taking recordings and getting photos of whale flukes for identification purposes, one particular whale catches his attention.  Through his camera’s viewfinder, Nate sees the words “BITE ME” on the whale’s fluke (aka tail).  Amy didn’t see this, but he got a photo… or did he?  Is he going mad?  Has the sun got to him?  When Nate and Amy return to their office, they find all of their computers, tapes and files have been either destroyed or tampered with.  Who did this and why?  Who would possibly be interested in disrupting research into whale songs? 

The cast of characters is fantastic, and for some reason I have a strange habit of always “casting” these books as if the movie version were imminent (perhaps this is symptom of my desire to have been a casting director)… Nate, the scientist with integrity (in my head, cast with Patrick Wilson); Amy, the pale slightly Gothic new assistant that Nate is trying his hardest not to be attracted to (Zooey Deschanel); Clay, Nate’s friend and photographer (totally Jeff Fahey… I tend to think of Jeff Fahey in anything needing a gruff older, wiser fun guy); and finally Kona (nee Preston Applebaum), the stoned blonde rasta who speak a horrific blend of pidgin and quasi Jamaican rasta babble (ie. I and I, brah)…. for Kona I can’t think of anyone other than some good looking tan blonde guy.  There are a host of other people who play minor and in some cases fairly major roles in the story… but these are the core characters.

The story goes to some rather outlandish places with a whole host of “wtf?!” moments.  A blend of fantasy and science fiction with a smattering of mystery, I have a hard time classifying this.  It’s funny… but it’s also a bit odd.  It reads quickly, yet you may want to read it again immediately after finishing to look for the little bits you have have glossed over.  Christopher Moore, although a bit of a jester, does his research… so the details of Nate’s scientific mission and rival scientists who go for the cash as opposed to the whole “integrity” thing feels organic in the story and as natural as it can be.  Any further details about the story would honestly serve no purpose but to confuse.  It’s a convoluted tale with some rather quirky twists.

Although this was the first Christopher Moore book I read, I have subsequently read all of his 12 novels.  He has a wonderful way of bringing together science fiction, fantasy, comedy, satire and at times genuine emotion in almost all of his works.  If you are interested in high brow art… may I suggest Faulkner.  If you want an enjoyable read where you will get some laughs and occasionally think about some bigger point, than Christopher Moore may be for you.  Based in San Francisco, he has a twisted sense of humor.  Fluke, his seventh novel came right on the heels of what may be his most well known and popular novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.  Each of his books contain characters that end up showing up in other novels of his… even an angel from Lamb shows up in his Christmas story, The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (I’m sure by now you are getting the idea about his style… irreverent and going for some laughs).  But don’t let the weirdness fool you, his writing is extremely accessible and a pure pleasure to dig into.

Another common theme in Moore’s books, is a bit of horror.  He has quite a few books involving monsters, vampires and Death (as in the person… Death… Mr. Reaper)… Fluke does not however.  It’s about as close to a straight story as I’ve read of his, but I wouldn’t say there is anything ordinary about this novel…. and I’m sure if you read this, you will read more Moore. 

I know why the winged whale sings,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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