Monday, July 29, 2013

Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm's "The Lost Whale"

Michael Parfit is a British Columbia-based writer, journalist and filmmaker. With his wife, Suzanne Chisholm, he has produced and directed more than twenty stories for the National Geographic Channel.

Suzanne Chisholm has produced and filmed documentaries and has done more than a dozen pieces for the National Geographic Channel.

Parfit applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna, and reported the following:
I’m delighted with what Page 99 [inset, below left, click to enlarge] turns up.

The book is about a sweet young killer whale baby nicknamed Luna, who lost his family and started trying to make contact with people, which created both funny and sad confusion in the human species. But there are several thematic layers in the narrative, which are mostly present on this page.

When I write nonfiction, I seem inclined to hide the themes that matter to me most, and sometimes -- I often fear through lack of art -- people don't notice them and they read as if the text had only one layer. So it is wonderful that with this book the Page 99 test is almost overtly revealing of both the key plot tension and the thematic stuff that The Lost Whale is really about. That clarity probably happens because the book was written in partnership with my wife, Suzanne Chisholm, who has the clearer mind.

Do I explain the bones of the book here and make everything overt? I can’t, even if I wanted to. I don’t think truly narrative work reveals its full meaning even to the person who writes it down. You exercise control as you can, but describing real events is in some ways radically different and more slippery than writing exposition or describing events that you make up. Fictional events may indeed be shallow, if you haven't given thought to the layers, but true events that you try to describe are always shaded into depths like the sea, all the way down into regions that you can’t see and don’t understand, and the choices that make your own version of actual events are only choices, not complete facts.

So I will not try to explain the things I think are important about the book as page 99 reveals them. I won’t outline the things Suzanne and I made sure were installed between some lines and spoken clearly in others, and I won’t chart the way the final chapters and pages summon those sparks out of the blaze of the main story to illuminate something that seemed to Suzanne and me to be important. You get a glimpse on page 99, but it’s incomplete.

It took 90,000 words to make the thing whole, and an attempted description here would be like the firing of a single photographer's flash -- it might show things in stark relief that have meaning only in their shading and movement, and would thus mislead.

So I can’t explain what page 99 means. I can only say that the page indeed strikes some of those sparks -- thematically in the description of Luna's relatively gentle nudging of a canoe with people in it, and, in terms of the basic tension of the plot, in describing the confusion of a good and sincere woman named Kari Koski, who wants desperately to help the little whale but cannot figure out how.

Those stories are in this book not just because they happened, but also because they illuminate the route we have chosen to travel through the overall story of the whale people called Luna. We can only hope that this road reaches a place that has at least a bit of truth in it. Page 99 does. You’ll have to see for yourself about the rest.
Learn more about Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm, and read more about The Lost Whale at the St. Martin's Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue