On the day Swell was published, I signed a hundred copies at a booksellers trade show in California. Person after person asked me a question I should have been more prepared to answer: What's this book about? I finally settled on telling them, "Sex, drugs, and whales." If they looked nonplussed, I said it was shorter and funnier than Moby-Dick.
Swell is the story of Orange Whippey, who wouldn't mind just going back to bed. Barring that, a dry pair of pants would be nice. He could use some coffee and a cigarette too. Beer would be great. A ride home would be helpful, but he'd settle for a day that passed without getting baked in a sauna, kidnapped, beaten, tossed overboard, or drugged.
Orange is a native of Bismuth, an island off the coast of Maine, and he thought he was in for another boring summer fishing and working at the island's only restaurant. When rival whaling factions from northern Europe arrive on the tiny island to play out ancient hostilities, Orange gets dragged into a smuggling scheme that involves migrating whales, cell phone antennae, and counterfeit tiger testes.
Maybe the pair of Korean smugglers will help him out of his troubles, but they seem to enjoy watching Orange flounder. Snorri the whale herder wants him to come on a quest to find Hyperborea, the mythical city at the North Pole. Waldena the lusty whale hunter wouldn't mind seeing Orange and Snorri drown. It's Angie, Orange's best friend's ex-wife, who takes pity on him. She thinks he's skinny, slow, and needs a shower, but likes him anyway--especially when he's snorted too much counterfeit tiger testes. If they can all just manage somehow to cooperate, there's a big strange payoff for each of them.
Swell is a comic novel full of imagined lore about the New England coast, sagas, mythology, and and big-fish-that-got-away stories. Readers have compared it to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Christopher Moore's Fluke. Melville's Ishmael would probably say Orange was a lazy, poor specimen of a whaler. Chandler's Philip Marlowe would have enjoyed tossing him off a pier.
Corwin Ericson is an MFA graduate of UMass Amherst and the former managing editor of the Massachusetts Review. His fiction has appeared in Harper's,the Believer, jubilat, and Fence. Swellis his first novel.