Reviewed by Geza Tatrallyay
A Whale Watcher’s Guide to the Apocalypse traces the riotous adventures of a low-life Ottawa bureaucrat, known to the reader as the Frontiersman, who one day rebels against his life of drudgery and revels in socially unacceptable behaviour. His actions ultimately lead to the destruction of la Belle Province, a major international incident and a global apocalypse.
Our Frontiersman resides in a dinky basement apartment, and his normal day consists of slowly waking up to sift through his rumpled office clothes to choose a shirt that, although not spotless, at least doesn’t reek, and a pair of pants free of chicken wing sauce. He comes to realize that he must escape the monotony of his life when a colleague, Yves Gagnon, tells him that he still has “Seven thousand eight hundred and sixty-four” days, or twenty-one and a half more years of work until retirement.
The attitude of this erstwhile Ottawa bureaucrat toward society is encapsulated by the statement, “and with nothing better to do, (he) waves his middle finger at the backed up traffic. He lights another cigarette and cracks another beer.” Our hero then falls asleep on an abandoned mattress in a culvert, and a huge storm washes him into the Ottawa River. Even then, he manages to crack open yet another Great Lakes Lager. The litany of mishaps that follow are rarely without a can of Great Lakes in hand.
Barrelling down the Ottawa River, the Frontiersman escapes the blades of a twenty-five megawatt hydro turbine by hurling his raccoon hat at it and clogging up its blades with the accoutrement’s fine hairs. He then accidentally kills two Quebec policemen who try to chase him away from the riverside lawn of the Canadian Museum of History. Now a wanted man, he creates chaos at a strip bar, where the young Girl Guide daughter of the owner, whom he falls in love with, calls the cops, saying, “Armed robbery. Old bald pervert. I think he’s going to hurt me.”
From that point on, the Quebec cops have an all-point bulletin out for an “old, bald, pervert.” But even then, the Frontiersman eludes the law. Using a stolen credit card, he orders five Shelby Raptors, a Ford pickup truck with seven-hundred-plus horsepower. Each Raptor is to be delivered to five remote locations in Canada, including the whale-watching Mecca of Tadoussac, Quebec.
In a frenzy journey across La Belle Province, the Frontiersman drinks and smokes heavily, and while mostly fuelled by “noble” intentions, he manages to commit just about every crime on the books. The greatest malheur occurs when he attempts to save a town hall meeting from being set ablaze by some protesters. His spontaneous actions to save the meeting misfire and lead to the blowing-up of Quebec’s state-of-the art province-wide propane pipeline system. Quebec City, with its unique cultural heritage, goes up in flames, as does much of the rest of the province. Montreal somehow escapes the carnage and is kept alight by scented candles.
Seeing the devastation of his beloved province by a “bearded, Anglophone delinquent,” the Premier of Quebec calls in his special agent, Joseph, and asks him to bring back the Frontiersman’s head. Joseph follows the Frontiersman’s scent and comes close to catching him when the Frontiersman is incapacitated with vomiting and diarrhea from drinking “the fox shit” infected waters of the Mistassini River.
Both predator and prey end up in Tadoussac. The Frontiersman holes up under a porch with a family of raccoons. Joseph sets up a surveillance post in a front bumper custom-built for one of the Frontiersman’s Raptors at the local Ford dealership. The trap is set for when the Frontiersman claims his new wheels.
Meanwhile, the Frontiersman’s priority is not the mega-beast gas-guzzler, but scrounging around garbage cans at the beach for something to eat. It is then that he spots two boats full of American tourists harassing two copulating blue whales. In an effort to protect the huge amorous mammals, he begins throwing rocks at the boats.
Learning that the Frontiersman is obsessed with saving the whales, Joseph reads up on the species and discovers that a single whale eats three tons of krill a day. Joseph’s plan is crystal clear: lure the whales to a specific spot, and the Frontiersman will show his hand there. So, Joseph gets the Premier of Quebec to have five hundred tons of shrimp dumped in the St. Lawrence to attract the whales and their protector. What Joseph doesn’t know is that the Premier will also be coming to Tadoussac, as will Prime Minister Trudeau who has invited the American and Chinese presidents to attend a weekend commemoration of the destruction of Quebec-slash-whale-watching cruise. And Vladimir Putin manages to horn in on the big event.
At this point, we will leave it to the reader’s imagination what happens next when the Frontiersmen and whales cross paths with these global leaders, with the relentless Joseph in hot pursuit.
The Whale Watcher’s Guide to the Apocalypse has to be one of the most is engaging novels coming out of Canada in some time. Replete with twists and turns and endowed with a protagonist who is a caricature of the craziest and, perhaps, yuckiest characteristics of Canadians, first-time novelist Lewis Evans hilariously lampoons his countrymen non-stop. It is a fun, fast read, but with some graphic passages not recommended for the faint of heart.
A Whale Watcher’s Guide to the Apocalypse will be published and released by Deux Voiliers Publishing in May 2023.