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.
"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
"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 design by Joan Sommers
THE WHALE CHASER
Academy Chicago Publishers * October 2010 * ISBN 978-0-89733-610-9