AHAB'S WIFE by Sena Jeter Naslund

AHAB'S WIFE

or, The Star-Gazer

KIRKUS REVIEW

Nothing in Naslund’s previous fiction (The Disobedience of Water, p. 571, etc.) prepares us for this extraordinary tale: a ravishingly detailed re-creation of the worlds of 19th-century antebellum America and of Melville’s seminal Moby Dick. The protagonist, and primary narrator, is Una Spenser (whose bookish mother named her after the heroine of The Faerie Queene), whom we first meet in her native Kentucky, where she’s returned to give birth to her first child’sired by her second husband: middle-aged Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod. Naslund’s flexible and fascinating narrative then leaps from Una’s ordeal (both her baby and her beloved mother die) and an inspiring new friendship—backward, to the story of her upbringing among relatives who tend a New England lighthouse, apprenticeship at sea disguised as a cabin boy, conflicted first marriage to an increasingly deranged husband, and eventual union with the brooding Ahab, whom even his young wife’s resourceful love cannot deflect him from his vengeful pursuit of the white whale he imagines Evil Incarnate. Then Una returns to Kentucky, thence back east (Nantucket), where her restless intellect involves her with New England’s ruling intellectual elite (including Transcendentalist icon Margaret Fuller) and the burgeoning abolitionist movement. The climactic pages, concentrated on Ahab’s increasing monomania and Una’s realization that he’s lost to her, vibrate with tragic intensity. And the long meditative denouement, alive with echoes of Melville’s cadences, memorably depicts Una’s gradual fulfillment in a society poised on the cusp of civil war, her being saved by living testimony of (her surviving son, Justice) and by her gratifying, if belated, relationship with the Pequod’s sole survivor) to the power of love and service to others, both neutralizing the fury that had consumed the doomed Ahab. Excepting a few inconsequential false steps, a genuine epic of America: an inspired homage to one of our greatest writers that brilliantly reinterprets, and in many ways rivals, his masterpiece. (First printing of 150,000; Book-of-the-Month main selection; $150,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-688-17187-7
Page count: 688pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999




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