Today marks the anniversary of the United States release of the classic novel Moby-Dick, a whale tale of revenge. The great white whale is infamous for his monstrous grandeur and size. Yet it’s the idea of such a creature that makes the biggest impact on the story’s characters—to their sense of self, and of their own place in the natural world. It doesn’t matter if Moby Dick isn’t actually a monster—for them he becomes one because of their own fears, doubts and anger.
Some books may not necessarily include actual whales, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t metaphorically present. The mind can be an incredible force to reckon with once it settles on something. It can transform our present realities into obsessions of our own making—jealousies, insecurities, greed and all sorts of other nasty manifestations. Once they’ve enveloped us, they can drive our motives and actions.
Here are 7 books with intense metaphorical whales, so to speak:
The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle
Honesty and trust are essential for a successful marriage. Iris and Will appear to have such a marriage, with their beautiful Atlanta home, rewarding careers—and soon a baby, if all goes well. So when Will leaves for a business trip to Orlando, nothing seems amiss to Iris—until she receives news that a plane destined for Seattle has crashed…and that Will was aboard. Not only has Iris become a widow, but she must now come to terms with the fact that her marriage was not what it seemed. Desperate and obsessed with finding answers, she embarks on a quest to discover the truth behind her husband’s secrets.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Every decision we make entails infinite possibilities. In this story, beautiful, seventeen-year-old Nadia Turner decides to take up with Luke Sheppard, the pastor’s son. She’s motivated by a sense of rebellion and her own grief from unexpectedly losing her mother. For Luke, the future looks bleak, with a recent injury ending his football career and leading him to waiting tables. Their romance is juvenile and far from serious, but Nadia becomes pregnant and they quickly have important decisions to make. Nadia hides her secret, even from her own best friend, Aubrey, a God-fearing girl. As the years catch up to them, the three live with the decisions they made that one seaside summer. They wonder what their lives would have been like had they chosen differently, and their regrets haunt them in every way.
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Losing someone is one of life’s hardest trials, and it affects everyone differently—making it that much more overwhelming. For Shelby Richmond, losing her best friend in a horrible accident one winter night changes her life forever. The grief and guilt she carries is not only emotional but physical. She now struggles every day to participate in a world she feels completely disconnected from. She’s only able to make a move forward thanks to beautiful handwritten postcards she receives from an anonymous “angel.” Shelby’s grief at first seems to shatter her but slowly—through Chinese food, dogs, bookstores and New York—she realizes it’s just one part of who she is.
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
The trouble with being young is that the future never seems imminent enough. Such is the case with four girls named Guinevere who are left by their parents to be raised by nuns. They all have their own tragic backstories, which only serve to make them weary of each other. But the coincidence of their names brings the girls together in a private sisterhood within the dismal and secluded monastery. Although they learn from the strict nuns’ teaching, they know there’s more to discover in the outside world. They dream of a day when they can leave and create their own home on their terms. But that changes when four comatose soldiers arrive at the convent. The Guineveres’ bond is tested in unforeseen ways, with each girl feeling more alone than ever before.
A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem
They say that a gambler never knows when to stop, always wanting more. For Bruno Alexander, a professional backgammon gambler, it would seem that his luck has run out. Not only is he on a horrendous losing streak, he wakes one day to find a “blot” that distorts his vision. When he wakes up again, this time in a hospital after the blot causes him to pass out, the diagnosis is dire. Left with little choice, he asks for help from his crass childhood nemesis, Keith Stolarsky, who agrees to pay for the experimental surgery that might save his life. Bruno not only survives the blot’s effects but finds himself with new psychic abilities. Despite these seemingly miraculous circumstances, throughout his continued gambling adventures Bruno wonders whether he’s the one being played…by life.
The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith
“All is fair in love and war.” And in 1945 it’s certainly wartime in La Serenissima, Venice, with the city occupied by the Third Reich. A fisherman named Cenzo comes across the body of a young woman, who turns out to be alive but in imminent danger. Her name is Giulia, a Jewish girl on the run from the SS. Rather than hand her over to them, Cenzo makes the brave decision to hide her. The consequences of his choice lead them both down a road of intrigue in the maze of the Venetian Lagoon where, despite the mayhem of war, they find impossible love.
The Regulars by Georgia Clark
It’s natural to want to change something about your appearance, especially since we tend to be our own worst critics. And for best friends Evie, Krista and Willow, their superficiality is constantly nourished by the high standards of New York City. They’re regular girls just trying to make it work with what they’ve got in life, but the chance for something more presents itself in Pretty, a magic tincture that makes them gorgeous. No longer plain and normal, the girls begin to experience the perks of being beautiful. But things aren’t as good as they seem on the outside, and they soon find there’s a dark side to being pretty.
What books have you read that feature metaphorical whales? Let us know in the comments below!