No, Friday’s Harbor is not a punctuation gaffe. Instead of referring to the largest community on San Juan Island in Washington state, the title of Diane Hammond’s delightful novel indicates the safe haven finally reached by an orca named Friday. Netted by accident when he was just a calf, the killer whale has been in captivity for nearly twenty years at a South American aquarium in Bogotá. Aging now, and in ill-health, Friday needs to find a sanctuary somewhere. Hammond’s motley crew of characters come to his rescue.
We met several of them before in Hannah’s Dream, a novel about an aging elephant at the Max L. Beidelman Zoo in Bladenham, Washington. This time Ivy Levy, a member of the zoo’s founding family and still a wealthy donor, persuades her nephew, Truman Levy (who is also the zoo’s director), to volunteer their facilities to nurse Friday back into shape. Joining them are Gabriel, an orca expert who has overseen the care of countless captive whales, Truman’s girlfriend Neva, a doggie daycare specialist, and Libertine, an animal communicator. Just naming the characters and describing their areas of expertise hints strongly at the tone of Friday’s Harbor.
Hammond’s novel was written for those of us who love animals. It grabs at the reader’s heartstrings and it brings a smile on every page. A killer whale may be larger than most pets, but Friday soon turns out to be almost cuddly, loveable and smart. He bonds with his caregivers, quickly learning how to outwit them. He also masters how to earn extra food by constantly showing off for the zoo visitors. Housed in a tank designed for dolphins, with windows that allow people to watch him under water, he is especially playful whenever someone takes his picture. Before long, Friday is famous. And then the animal welfare and protection people take an interest in his well-being.
In the 1990s, Hammond served as the media liaison spokesman for the Oregon Coast Museum and for Keiko, the orca star of the movie Free Willie, so she has detailed knowledge of killer whales in captivity and of the lengths to which animal rights protestors will go. Apparently, she took detailed notes while she was working in Oregon, then translated real events into a world of fiction. The result is a book both sweet and funny, charming and capricious, heart-warming and hilarious. You’ll not soon forget Friday’s rescuers, and you’ll definitely not soon forget Friday himself (or his pet dog, Julio Iglesias, an irascibly cranky terrier). Need I say more? – Ann Ronald
Also available by Diane Hammond: Hannah’s Dream; Going to Bend; Seeing Stars; Homesick Creek.