Book Review

Cover design for "Swell" is by Chris Jordan with Charlie Potter.















By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson


From November 21, 2011
A review I wrote for the site Reader Unboxed.


I have come to realize that merely remaining alive is more of an achievement than I expected.

A lot of Orange Whippey’s acquaintances do their best to prove his point, in Corwin Ericson‘s debut novel, Swell.

Whippey is a latter-day Candide being chased around the worst of all possible islands. He is stranded among lampreys; tossed off a rusting naval vessel; seen “courting deep vein thrombosis”; suspected of kidnapping; abducted, himself; and more than capable of getting and losing the girl. Over and over.

He both deplores and deploys his gullibility in the dodgy breezes of a fictional island called Bismuth.  For all Ericson’s Thor-thumping references to Scandinavian lore and “whale roads,” Whippey’s stark awareness of his own faults fans a pertinent line of faith: but for the grace of God, we could all end up, as Whippey does, without coffee or pants.

A bro’s bard

The most seminal accomplishment here is an unerring ear for guy talk, a pal’s patois of such secure consistency that Whippey can appreciate and describe the most exquisite, garden-party menu without losing his grip on the correct libation.

Is there more wine? Different wine?

Do you mean beer?

Yes, please.

In the bed-head vocabulary of a wry intellectual buddy, here’s Whippey explaining his hatred of work.

The lords of dawn are men such as Mr. Lucy. Their boats and trucks scrub away the shadows before them each morning, and they bide their time in the empty hours fashioning yokes and manacles for the unwary who stumble into their toils. They remember when dawn was hours earlier and when they had to kill a hundred Nazis every morning just to get to the percolator. They knew that if every young man in this God-fearing country would just get up at 5:30 AM and perform a modest flag ceremony, the upwelling of patriotism and personal pride would hasten Judgment Day upon us and we could get an early start on adoring Jesus in the afterlife before the tourists arrived.

And in the best-boy tradition of a doubtless Thomas, it’s all in Whippey’s head:

I’d spent years cultivating the belief that this woman was my cousin. If she were my cousin, I could steal a few peeks now and then and continue to admire the way she’d never lost her youthful roundness, the curves that turn to crags and angles so quickly on so many islanders. I could sleep over on her and Mitchell’s couch, and we could shuffle around each other in our underwear in the morning without too much fuss. If Angie were my cousin, the fact that toenail polish matched her lipstick and her habit of wearing only a sweatshirt, a bathing suit, and a kerchief for half the summer would merely be cute and practical; the way her brown pupils contrasted with the whites of her eyes in the same manner that her tan line contrasted with her pale skin when her suit slipped a little off her hip wouldn’t fixate me at all.


To read the full review, jump over to Reader Unboxed.

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