Friday, July 17, 2009

Ahab's Wife

Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel

by Sena Jeter Naslund

Ahab's Wife is the life story of Una Spenser, the only wife of Moby Dick's Captain Ahab. The novel begins with her exile from her childhood home at the age of 12, when she is shuttled to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin on a lighthouse island in New England. Naslund goes into sometimes painstaking detail of the day to day life of Una with a lyrical style that reflects Melville and other 18th century authors. Naslund wrote the book with the idea to tell the story of 18th century women, since the vast majority of literature from that period barely acknowledge their existence. Una is not a woman to stay at home, gazing worriedly for her lost lover, although she does spend some time doing just that. Throughout Una's adventures, she runs away to become a cabin boy on a whaling ship, marries and divorces a probable schizophrenic, hobknobs with Margret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emmerson, births and raises a live child and a stillborn, becomes involved in the Abolitionist movement and much, much more. Una's story is as much of an epic adventure as Ahab's.

Ahab's Wife reads in fits and starts; it took me just as long to get through the first 100 pages as it took me to get through the next 400, and slightly less time to get through the last 100 or so. Una's life was punctuated with periods of unactivity and periods of frantic exploits. While I could appreciate Naslund's prose from a literary perspective, it was a bit bourgeois for me. At times it was prose for prose's sake, rather than prose for descriptive or philosophical ends. I also wish Una's philosophical ponderings were a bit deeper than your basic philosophy 1o1 questions. Overall Ahab's Wife was a fairly enjoyable read, if not a quick one, but I found myself constantly yearning for something deeper, as I felt was promised but not quite fulfilled.

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