The Whale Chaser is the story of Vince Sansone, the eldest child and only son in a
large Italian-American family, who comes of age in 1960s Chicago. A constant disappointment
to his embittered father -- a fishmonger who shows his displeasure with his fists -- Vince
finds solace by falling in love. Classmate Marie Santangelo, the neighborhood butcher's
winsome daughter, entices him with passionate kisses and the prospect of entering her family's
business. Yet he pursues Lucy Sheehan, an older girl with a reputation, who has also been
victimized by the adults in her life.
When Vince abruptly flees Chicago he ends up in Tofino, a picturesque fishing town
on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. He finds a job
gutting fish, then is hired by Tofino's most colorful dealer, Mr. Zig-Zag, and joins
the thriving marijuana trade. Ultimately, through his friendship with an Ahousaht native
named Ignatius George, he finds his calling as a whale guide.
Vince must come to terms with the consequences of his own actions as well as his
family's version of la storia segreta, the unspoken story of how his grandfather,
like thousands of other Italians and Italian Americans, was evacuated from prohibited
zones on the West Coast and, like hundreds of others, was interned in a prison camp
after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Set in the turbulent decades of the Vietnam war
and the drug and hippie counterculture, The Whale Chaser is a powerful story
about the possibility of redemption.
"Ardizzone's latest novel stretches over decades and miles, from the crowded North Side
of Chicago to the haunting waters of British Columbia. The book sends home the complicated,
elusive beauty of the struggle toward self-comprehension -- with insights as illuminating
and breathtaking as a whale's sudden breach." -- Angela Pneuman, author of Lay It on
My Heart and Home Remedies.
"This lyrical, engaging novel is sensual, suspenseful, and full of crackling life. Tony
Ardizzone, above all, is a marvelous chronicler of the joys of being alive. There's plenty
of peril too, and suspense, the human tragicomedy in all its nuanced complexity." -- Christine
Sneed, author of Little Known Facts and Paris, He Said.
"The Whale Chaser is a masterful merger of story and history, metaphor and metaphysics,
explanation and confession. Ardizzone's eye, ear and recollection are incredible; the story is
not merely set in Catholic Chicago in the 1960s or in the counter-culture haven of Vancouver
Island in the 1970s, it recreates those places and times -- idiom, states of mind, complexities
of custom and religion and expectation and desperation. His precise language more than describes;
it turns scenes of both violence and love into incredible experiences. And the voice of his
character, Vince Sansone, is so note-perfect it is hard to remember this is fiction, not memoir.
Vince's hard-won wisdom is so naturally expressed one hopes he is really out there, sailing with
the whales, showing the tourists something that will take them out of themselves, if only
for a moment." -- David Bradley, author of The Chaneysville Incident and winner of
the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
"A sumptuous and inspirational read. . . . How powerful the urge to escape! At home the teenage
Vince Sansone struggles for space among three damaged immigrant generations in a single Chicago
brownstone, yet out in the streets the `60s have begun to exert their own pressures, even more
formidable. The American dream seems a specter. The clueless Marie may cuddle sweetly in the
back seats of the cars awaiting repair in a friend's garage, yet she's more of the same
'big mousetrap' of a neighborhood, snaring Vince more painfully. Yet once the boy escapes -- how
powerful the remorse! So his story cartwheels back and forth between 'Nam-burdened America and
flower-power Canada, between monsters from the last World War (the deportations and confiscations
that still haunt Italian Americans) and the freaks of the late '60s (the blonde and willowy Harmony
may take Vince to bed, but she also, firmly, puts the 'greaser' in his place). It's all a big,
two-hearted odyssey. Whatever our voyager's port of call, he comes up against a leviathan. Each
time our young man achieves some kind of sentimental education; better yet, he renders these
discoveries with an avidity that shifts and matures but never loses its receptivity to awe.
Whether Vince is taking a punch, tripping on good Pacific Northwest acid, or simply out hatless in
the wet and cold, he can break rousingly into Kerouackian incantation. With The Whale Chaser
Tony Ardizzone has achieved his masterpiece, and at the same time -- off-handedly, with true
sprezzatura -- one of the two or three greatest novels ever of the Italian-American
quandary." -- John Domini, author of Earthquake I.D.
"Ardizzone has a knack of saying out loud what you've always felt and never put into words....
Through sin, redemption, death and resurrection, Ardizzone's latest goes deep into the 1960s and
'70s to give us a tale worthy of our attention." -- Fred Gardaphé, author of From Wiseguys
to Wise Men
Academy Chicago Publishers press release
Jacket designs by Joan Sommers
THE WHALE CHASER
Academy Chicago Publishers Hardcover * October 2010 * ISBN 978-0-89733-610-9
Chicago Review Press Paperback * May 2015 * ISBN 978-0-8973-923-0
U. S. Catholic review of The Whale Chaser, by Tony Ardizzone.
"The Whale Chaser Details the Search for Forgiveness," copyright © 2015
by U. S. Catholic, October 2015. Review by Nick Ripatrazone.
The Whale Chaser begins and ends with a moment of transcendence: “The summer that I sent
letters of apology to all the people I’d known back in Chicago, all the people I’d hurt, when I
began to piece together the two disconnected halves of my life.” Vincent Sansone’s colorful life
is full of lost loves and broken promises that lead to his present as a whaling guide—a job in
which the sense of search feels natural.
Novelist Tony Ardizzone moves seamlessly between the pre-Vatican II American Midwest and
Tofino, British Columbia, of the late 1970s. Both settings are richly drawn. Vincent’s Italian-Catholic
childhood is captured through the intersection of innocent faith and adolescent doubt. In one
authentically rendered scene, young Vincent’s family raves about the free neckbones received from
the butcher; “But if I were made to pay a nickel or dime for them, or God forbid, all of fifteen or
twenty cents, my parents would find a thousand faults with the bones.” In the same vein, Vincent is
never satisfied. Marie, his first love, is described in positively Marian terms, but his heart strays.
Telling the story through alternating time periods allows Ardizzone to show how Vincent’s youth
reverberates to his present. Traditional, conservative Chicago is a sharp contrast to the free love
milieu of Tofino. Vincent is shrewd enough to see the cracks in that world. Dialogue-heavy party
scenes are followed by swaths of contemplative description about winters on the sound: “It’s as if
all the day is a gray, wet funeral.”
It is under those skies that Vincent seeks forgiveness from those he has wronged over the years.
Some ignore him, while others react with anger. Yet this element of the novel is positively sacramental.
Of forgiveness, Vincent wonders, “Does life offer us any greater grace?” The Whale Chaser is tale
of a man’s continual chase for both self and soul.
Midwest Book Review review of The Whale Chaser, by Tony Ardizzone.
Copyright © 2015 by Midwest Book Review, August 2015.
Impressively well written from beginning to end, The Whale Chaser is a complex and deftly
crafted novel that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself is finished and set
back upon the shelf. Tony Ardizzone is an exceptional novelist and The Whale Chaser is very highly
recommended for community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that
The Whale Chaser is also available in a paperback edition and in a Kindle format.