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SWELL Paperback – October 25, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

""A raucous roller-coaster ride . . . the writer deconstructs all things New England to hilarious effect. Ericson's tale reveals strong flavors of Tom Robbins, but there is also a splash of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Just sit back and enjoy the long strange trip.""
Shelf Awareness

""This delightfully loopy debut combines Down East deadpan with elements of Nordic mythology and Pynchonesque pyrotechnics. Ericson's Maine coastal setting lies at the edge of the surreal.""
Publishers Weekly

“Swell reads like an early Tom Robbins novel. It's stuffed with fresh-feeling observations—and old observations dolled up in just the right pair of Groucho Marx glasses—giving many chapters the feel of a hilarious, discursive night at the bar with a talented bullshit artist. Even though Whippey's the literary equivalent of an old friend who crashes on your couch for a week too long, you can't help but fall in love with him. He's a romantic, and his obvious adoration for coastal life in New England will leave you longing for a vacation in Melville country.”
— Paul Constant, The Stranger

""Jaunty, playful, hilarious, and imminently readable, Swell is much more than an auspicious debut, it's that rarest of birds, a good old-fashioned reading pleasure.""
— Jonathan Evison, best-selling author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and West of Here

Orange himself reads like Pynchon’s Doc Sportello. Add a splash of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, too . . . A superbly crafted mixture of humor and observations of modern life, a combination of barely-noticeable detective fiction and magical realism, something uniquely its own and, in the end, a truly good read. Swell is a fantastic novel.
Line Zero

“Gaiman meets Barth in a novel about a cellphone network made out of whales. It’s time to go away to sea. [. . .] The question is, are you ready for Whalepunk?”
IO9

“A postmodern maritime epic.”
Necessary Fiction

“A ridiculously anarchic good read that makes Moby Dick look about as exciting as a lobster fishing manual. Swell rises and falls like the ocean, gradually working its way towards a conclusion that’s both emotionally satisfying and curiously open. If you’ve ever wondered what Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas might have been like if Hunter S. Thompson had set it at sea, then you finally have your answer.”
— Dan Coxon, Culture Mob

“Orange Whippey is a degenerate loser from the tiny North Atlantic island of Bismuth who somehow, despite his best intentions of remaining a loser, inexplicably winds up heading a plot involving whale herders, Korean drug smugglers, an aquatic cell phone network, Norse mythology, and the subtle intricacies of Jaws, the novel. Hilarious and weird, yet bizarrely heartwarming and filled with unforgettable characters. I loved every single hilarious word of it.”
The Book Catapult
 

About the Author

Corwin Ericson lives in western Massachusetts where he works as an editor, professor, and writer. He is the author of the chapbook Checked Out OK (Factory Hollow Press, 2011), a collection of police reports. Swell is his first novel. More info can be found at www.swellthenovel.com and www.darkcoastpress.com.

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Product Details

  • Series: SWELL
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Dark Coast Press (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0984428844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0984428847
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,208,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jonathan E. Evison on November 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
. . . anyone who's ever lived on an island, a small town, or a fishing village will get this book . . . it's whimsical, hilarious, and has cult status written all over it . . . if ericson should fail to suspend your disbelief with this whale of a tale, he will keep you reading with the sheer joy of his writing . . . tom robbins meets herman melville . . .
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Tom Robbins (Still Life with Woodpecker), Alexander Theroux (Laura Warholic), and Richard Brautigan walk into a bar. They are joined by Herman Melville, a small contingent from Greenpeace, and a Scandanavian skald. Instead of crafting a bad joke, they collaborate to write Corwin Ericson's Swell. Its sea anchor being cut loose, the plot of Ericson's first novel is set adrift nearly at the outset. Bismuth, a fictional island somewhere off the north east coast of North America, is the setting for this fantasy sci-fi story. Main character and narrator is Orange Whiffey whose name is a commingling of two Bismuthian ancestral families...yes, the Oranges and the Whiffeys. As a character Whiffey takes self-deprecation to a new level; in fact, it is the only personality trait that defines him. Using migrating cetaceans as antennaes for a cellphone network is the novel's plot, a creative enough idea if only Ericson would do something with it. As it is, the plot washes ashore periodically, but frustratingly it ebbs more than it flows. What follows is a lot of silliness involving North Korean smugglers (on the east coast?), the pseudo-historian and storyteller Snorri who marries bears, herds whales and drinks "old milk" from a pocket flask, Estonindian Waldena, skipper of the Hammer Maiden, an Amazonian hunter of whales. There's Angie (Whiffey's love interest although she's "not his girlfriend"), her daughter Moira, and Angie's sister Mineola Bombadier, "Priestess of Privacy" who with her armed bodyguards rule the island of Gaiety ("...actually the abbreviation of a much longer Indian name that supposedly means 'that island over there'"). These characters flounder around in the plot and this reader was not interested enough in them to come to their rescue.Read more ›
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What an inventive, rollicking, laugh-out-loud novel! Though Ericson is being compared to any number of successful novelists, he's his own writer with his own unique style. The language is fantastic without being over-the-top; this is a smart writer with a giant imagination, and he treats both his characters and his readers with respect. Prepare to be immersed in the believable yet fantastical world of Bismuth. It's the best novel I've read in quite some time - the characters of Orange, Snorri, and Moira are my new heroes!
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Based on the cover art and the description - Christopher Moore meets Neil Gaiman? Sign me up! - I thought I'd enjoy this novel.

I was wrong.

That's not because of a lack of skill on the author's part, which is why I didn't give it my traditional 1-star rating for a DNF. No, the author is skilled enough; I just absolutely could NOT get into the book.

Basically, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like.

Which is to say, it's a rambling, shambling, postmodernist semi-farce with a slightly AU setting that I found the most engaging part of the novel. It uses all of the "talk about nothing, and then talk about sex, and then talk about high-minded intellectual concepts that seem out of kilter with the narrator's background and current predicament" tricks of modern literary fiction, plus that feeling of dissociative ennui that typically annoys the hell out of me when I read said modern literary fiction.

Which is why I couldn't actually finish the book, despite being vaguely interested in finding out more about the mystery that's supposedly at its heart. The characters pissed me off, the constant asides and discursions and "I'm smarter than you" tidbits distracted from what plot there was, and the strange sexual fantasies and hijinks were annoying.

All of them were technically adept and well-written, but I just could NOT get into the story.

The background and worldbuilding are interesting - imagine a world where Native Americans followed the "whale roads" to Scandinavia and founded civilizations that became "the Northern Indies," replete with populations like the Estonindians, who hunt whales, and the Finlandians, who ranch them. Yup, okay, that's awesome.

But use that framework to create a rambling postmodern tale of personal ennui and the occasional lamprey-chucking, and it seems like that's where you lose me.
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I laughed my way through Swell. Its characters were likable and its plot was wonderfully unpredictable.

I love fiction that uses as its central characters the indolent yet thoughtful type of people I have often known. Like the stranded Ishmael clinging to his trunk at the end of Moby Dick, Orange Whippey is at the mercy of the sea of silliness that surrounds him on the imaginary island of Bismuth.

Not the ocean but a scheming, mysterious, diverse cluster of friends, lovers and employers buffet our hero from one hilarious scene to the next, imposing their will upon his indolent person with Ahab-ish intensity. This is an unconventional read in the tastiest sense of the word. Swell has that magical combination of seeming to come from a familiar place in our literary tradition while bursting with a freshness that current fiction generally lacks.

In this age of mean-spirited humor, Ericson makes every character funny and somewhat likable, while avoiding silly stereotypes or cultural shortcuts to fill out the cast of characters.

Melville would have loved it.
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