DL Fowler's Blog

In Memoriam: Hank Searls 

Posted in Favorite Books, Hank Searls, Inspiration, Intimacy, Show Don't Tell, Sounding by DLFowler on May 14, 2017

I recently learned that one of my favorite authors, Hank Searls, passed away at 94 years old, on February 17, 2017. He was a gifted and prolific writer. You might recall Jaws 2.

I had the privilege of meeting Hank several years ago, and we spent a good hour or more talking about writing.  One of my all-time favorite novels is Sounding, Hank’s story about an aging sperm whale. It has been called the best whale novel since Moby Dick.

Hank was not only a stickler about research, he was a master of intimacy. In the final scene of Sounding, Hank employs a range of visual perspectives as well as poetic meter to enhance intimacy. His point-of-view character, an aging sperm whale, is caring for an injured calf in a cove under the watchful eyes of humans.

For eighteen days and eighteen nights, they stayed within the cove.

Some men left, but others came. Their great birds and insects roared by aloft, but never flew too close. Children began to swim with the calf, who towed chains of them in play.

One glorious day, when the calf’s wound healed, he breached three fluke-widths high. It was a sign to the bull.

There were richer waters across the sea, on Europe’s eastern shore. He would at first find a herd for the cow and the calf, then return to the frozen north.

He breached three times with the little calf, and man seemed to understand. That morning they left as the cliffs turned live with men and their cheering young.

The dolphin had brought her herd to play, and the dolphins stayed behind. It was later said that if one fell sick, man fed him every day.

The aging sperm sounded often of what he had learned of men. He roared it off Gibraltar, and later in the north. He spoke of it to pilot whales, and humpbacks made it song; orcas squealed his learning to their young.

The thing he had been taught was this: The prophecy was true.

In oceans where whales swam that day, men’s voices were noise indeed. But in oceans east of tomorrow’s sun, men’s voices and whales’ were one.

The farther Searls pulls readers back from the immediacy of the cove toward more expansive vistas—Gibraltar, later in the north, in oceans where whales swam that day, and finally to oceans east of tomorrow’s sun—the deeper they travel into the whale’s heart and soul. As the layers of intimacy are pulled back, readers discover the whale’s boldest dreams: man learns from the whale, the whale learns from man, and their voices are one.

I love that passage for many reasons. Two of them are the message and the beauty of the language.

Do you have any favorite Hank Searls stories or passages? Leave a comment if you do.

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