“Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last,” – Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer

Screw the fish.  Let’s talk about Ahab’s wife.

I don’t know about you, but in my high school English class, Moby Dick was required reading.  And there was nothing in the book about Ahab’s wife.  I don’t think I ever gave it a thought until this book came out a few years ago.  The book has been around for roughly twenty years, and I think I first read it about ten years ago, when I was still living in LA, and had lots of time to sit and read books, since I hadn’t even signed up for Facebook yet.  I was kind of a late adopter on that one.  Some days I wish I had not adopted the habit at all.

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This book, Ahab’s Wife, is not so much about Ahab and the whale as it is about Una’s penchant for non-conforming behavior and her desire to get out and see the world on her own terms.  Whether it’s pretending to be a boy on the crew of a whaler that is sunk when it’s rammed by a whale, or dealing with the loss of her child and her mother at the same time, our heroine is often complex, ahead of her time, and perhaps even a bit ahead of our time, at least when you look at the past twenty weeks, much less years.

The fisherman is only the beginning.

Ahab’s wife contains a few interesting characters in a nod to other literary masterpieces – this book is only marginally connected to her husband and his lot in life (really, who among us can say that the first time they read Melville they were so excited they wanted to jump up and down for joy?  not me, that’s for sure); it’s a fun romp through a character list from many other, unrelated books, that just so happen to have been placed in the same time period in history.

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The book has been called “parasitic fiction” by at least one reviewer over the years (the irony of a San Francisco Chronicle book review calling something parasitic is not lost on me) but it was generally well received, and it’s definitely an entertaining read, at least in my opinion.

Pants are definitely not overrated.

Ahab’s Wife is a woman who is ahead of her time – she’s a progressive of sorts, set against a backdrop of complex characters offering the chance to break out of the usual “woe is me, I’m just a little woman” scenario, and really stretch her (sea) legs.

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Una also has a skeptical view of organized religion, and her restlessness and impetuosity often lead her into very interesting sections in the book;  these ‘transactions’ don’t always end the way we expect them to, or even the way that we hope they will.

All in all, if you’ve got a hankering to read a book that’s both uplifting and intriguing, then Ahab’s Wife should be on your short list.  I find sometimes that when I go back years later to re-read a book that it’s lost some of its original luster.  That is not the case with Ahab’s Wife – I find it to be just as relevant with the inequality issues we are experiencing now as things were during the time period of the story.

 

I suggest you grab a copy and plan to curl up for more than a couple of hours – it’s a long book, but it’s very much worth the time it takes to read it!