ARANSAS by Stephen Harrigan


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Can this first novel--about capturing, training, then releasing porpoises--transcend the corniness usually associated with its two basic premises: the Flipper-charm of porpoises and the ecological good-guy sentimentality of releasing them. Yes it can; because Harrigan, sticking to a vivid locale (the Texas Gulf around Corpus Christi) and a very level main character, avoids being gored by a double-cliche by knotting both horns together. Together with a professional porpoise trainer named Canales, ex-hippie Jeff Dowling captures two wild porpoises for a coastal sea-world show set up by Dude Granger-an old family friend to whom Jeff feels indebted. Sammy, the male, is physically perfect and extremely smart; Wanda, the female, is less well-endowed on both counts (she'll eventually die in captivity). The animals learn to respond to training, amazing Jeff with how they approach ""the semiconscious realm of human art""--and Harrigan's descriptions of the process are impressive. But then the novel threatens to go wrong, with the appearance of Mary Katherine, a graduate student in marine biology who obviously is opposed to the commercial exploitation of the porpoises-and who just as obviously will fall in love with Jeff. Harrigan manages to maintain honesty, however, even as the plot moves through a near-inevitable sequence: Mary Katherine wants Jeff to let Sammy go; Dude Granger dies; Canales sells Sammy to a sea-world impresario in Florida; and, finally, with Mary Katherine, Jeff spirits Sammy out to sea under the cover of night. . . but Sammy doesn't want freedom--he wants Jeff. It's no small achievement that Harrigan makes this all intelligible beyond cliche. And, best of all, the rapport between Sammy and Jeff is mysterious, noble, and quite powerful at times.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Knopf