ESCAPING THE WHALE
You can run but you can’t hide. This old adage does not apply exclusively to running from an external threat. As the protagonist of the novel ESCAPING THE WHALE discovers, running from internal threats is even more problematic.
The novel’s main character, Marcia, has a lot she yearns to escape. The daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors, she has grown up absorbing the terrors and fears embodied in her family’s experiences in Europe. Her legacy of inherited trauma fills every aspect of her life, from the crackers and mints she hoards in her desk drawer at work ‘just in case’ to her fear of getting into an elevator before checking every corner of it. The book takes place in spring and summer of 1980 when the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran is major news. Concern for the hostages and alarm over the constant stream of news reports about it permeate the atmosphere and Marcia’s already fragile sense of safety is gradually being eroded. As a 28-year old guidance counselor specializing in handling the pregnant students at a large urban high school in Brooklyn, New York, she forces herself to keep it together in order to do her job advocating for her charges. She also does her best to present as “normal” to colleagues at the school and to her boyfriend, whom everyone considers a perfect catch yet who fills her with confusion and discomfort. In addition, she has her family and their expectations to contend with.
What she feels she can never reveal to anyone are the panic attacks and delusions that plague her. Convinced there are rodents scurrying about in her closet, ready to pounce and do her harm, she suffers in silence. If she confessed this to anyone, what would they think of her? “How could she ever explain the way she was?” she wonders. Imagining sharks and other creatures of the deep converging on land and attacking humans, courting danger by wandering the Brooklyn streets late at night, seeing body parts in inanimate objects – all these symptoms of inherited trauma rule her life. Every frightening event brings her mind back to stories she has heard of tortures and persecutions during the war. She cannot seem to rid herself of these tormenting thoughts.
At one low point, Marcia wails, “Why hadn’t something been invented to squeeze horrifying thoughts out of one’s mind, like a vise that could siphon out the undesirable imaginings?”
That is her wish. Unfortunately, she discovers that there is no such thing, no easy out. A series of crises at work and in the news push her closer and closer to a breakdown, and she can no longer continue leading her double life. Determined to escape before she explodes, she flees to a beach resort in Mexico, convinced that in a new locale, away from her regular life and her dangerous closet, she can reinvent herself and be rid of those “inner demons,” as she thinks of them.
The Biblical Jonah tried to run away from who he was, so why should she succeed when he could not? Instead of inner peace, what she finds in Mexico is her mental anguish building to a fever pitch. At that point, she knows she has to make some serious decisions in order to take control of her life and achieve true mental health. Can she muster the courage to do what is necessary in order to banish her demons?
Escaping The Whale
THE WHALE SURFACES
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THE WHALE SURFACES
The romanticized picture of childhood as a time of carefree innocence, of golden sunshine and worry-free bliss can be a dangerous illusion. In The Whale Surfaces, author Ruth Rotkowitz holds a microscope to those idealized years in the life of the protagonist she created in her debut novel, Escaping the Whale. This microscope, at times, becomes a sledgehammer.
Marcia Gold is the daughter of Holocaust survivors whose lives have been defined by their painful experiences in Europe. A sensitive child, Marcia has absorbed this history as her own, and the Holocaust looms over her childhood like an ever-present cloud. Despite caring parents and a safe life, Marcia’s childhood is filled with panic and delusions.
Marcia realizes early on that her fearful imaginings are upsetting to others. Yet demons are haunting her and she feels them infiltrating her life, making her ‘different.’ No one can understand her sense of alienation and her frightening ‘visions.’ Mortified by them herself, she believes her only hope lies in escaping the scene of her childhood and beginning an independent life. Only then, she concludes, will she vanquish those demons whose tentacles seem to be sliding relentlessly through the inside of her brain, poisoning all that they touch. Marcia’s search for independence is really a search for mental health. Read after Escaping the Whale, the prequel explains Marcia’s journey to adulthood. Read as a stand-alone, it provides a picture of a child struggling to be ‘normal.’ Marcia Gold, in both books, is waiting to be understood.
ESCAPING THE WHALE
Set in the 1980’s, Marcia sees the Iran Hostage crisis unfold on TV….adding to her own tensions and anxieties. Marcia is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and struggles with her mental health as being constantly bombarded with news events at home and overseas. She is such a great character, I really felt for her.
Escaping The Whale is an emotion packed and incredibly moving tale of inherited trauma, life and finding your identity. It’s beautifully written with light touches of humour too. This would be a perfect read for a book club as there are so many parts just calling for discussion.
Thank you to Random Things Tours for the opportunity to be part of this blog tour, for the promotional material and an eARC of Escaping The Whale. This is my honest and unbiased review.
Several writing projects are beckoning to me at this time. The first one I plan to tackle is a prequel to Escaping the Whale. Having been asked about my protagonist’s early life at a recent book discussion, I realized that it would be interesting to explore Marcia’s upbringing and give some context to the route that led her to become the person we meet in Escaping the Whale. I am also working on a novel that focuses on an installation artist and it will deal with the problem of obsession, as installation art and obsession are areas that fascinate me. In addition, I have begun a comical book on a family of eccentrics, which includes a talking parrot, living in a run-down castle inherited from their once-wealthy forebears that they are determined to keep despite the fact that they cannot afford it. A love story (with an unconventional ending) is also in the works.
Poetry and short pieces will always be a part of my writing output as well, as I find that they are a means to express heartfelt emotion and acute observations. Every form of writing offers opportunities to explore and communicate, and I relish the sense of fulfillment they provide.