Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ahab's Wife: The "Lack of Editing" Saga Continues

Just finished up Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Nasland and first off I have to give the woman props for writing a nearly 700 page novel off of one blink-and-you-miss-it paragragh from Herman Melville's widely read classic Moby Dick. That being said, it's almost 700 pages of mostly character rants, needless introspection, some serious ADHD tendencies and utter contradictions. In short, it picks up right where Moby Dick left off! : - P  I know Melville's novel is highly regarded in many scholarly circles, but I have to admit that though I've been a fan and student of classic literature all my life, that particular book was not one of my favorites. It was absolute work for me to get through, which really defeats the purpose of writing a novel! If you're writing a dissertation or non-fiction type piece with lots of documentation for historical or educational purposes, that's one thing but "novel" indicates the author is fictionalizing, telling a story, and thus hoping the reader will be at least mildly entertained.

" Sea Captain's Wife Praying "
Charles Wysocki

On a humorous note, I am a big fan of the XtraNormal clips that have been all over YouTube and are starting to find their way onto television. I was thrilled to come across this hysterical video in which Ishmael is portrayed as an author being interviewed regarding his new book on his experiences. It perfectly portrays my own feelings while reading both of these works:

Ahab's Wife takes one paragragh in Moby Dick where said wife is mentioned in passing, and hypothesizes what her life might have been like, before and after meeting Captain Ahab of the ship Pequod.

One of my favorite actors, Gregory Peck, as Captain Ahab

To be fair, it's not as if finishing this book, I was left feeling that there was nothing redeeming to the story. I did push myself to the ending after all. I think what left me disappointed was what I commonly see in fiction today,  a lack of editing out unimportant scenes, redundant phrasing, excessive use of personal philosophies, or my personal peeve - when an author tries to cram in so much story that it almost screams "Hey look at all this research I did!" or in more of a Ron Burgundy tone, "Hey everyone, come see how smart I am, it's amazing!". As much as I love great stories, it infuriates me when a potentially interesting idea gets ruined by an author's ego. Naslund may have gotten caught up in throwing all her research into the novel, more renowned authors have fallen into the same trap (and understandably so when you spend months or years researching for a novel, it can't help but become a labor of love and you want to share all that information with others so as not to let all the work seemingly go to waste but I imagine it's hard to come to terms with the fact that outside of die-hard fans of your previous work, most people just won't care about the details as much as you do) HOWEVER I did appreciate elements of the story throughout the novel, which kept me reading.

Una Spenser, Ahab's wife, was an interesting character in that she seemed to live her life moment by moment, damn the consequences. I can respect that as I have lived in a similar pattern. Unfortunately, I can tell you first hand that while life is rarely boring, the results of such behavior are sometimes less than ideal. Una herself discovers this but in the process of her trial-and-error lifestyle, she does have opportunity to go to sea and see the world, primarily disguised as a cabin boy (something not entirely unheard of but certainly still shocking to most women of the 1800s). Una is unable to establish much of a mental travelogue however because the ship she is on gets "stoved" or pummeled by a giant sperm whale, causing her and the other crew members not killed in the impact to flee to the rescue boats and consequently be stranded at sea. Being essentially lost at sea (and coming as quite a shock to me as there was no mention of this anywhere in the novel synopsis) Una (going by the name Ulysses) and the rest of the crew resort to cannabalism, as one by one members succumb to illness and dehydration and start dying off. Una goes on to survive the ordeal but of course is tormented by memories of her actions.  Bummer is, her struggles don't end there but just compound into even more moments of mental anguish once she establishes life on land again. Thankfully, Ahab comes along "just when I needed you most" as the song says and offers her a now attractive quiet, domestic life as his wife in a big fancy house in Nantucket.

It was primarily this strife and curiosity of how Una would handle each curveball thrown at her that kept me reading. Overall though, I feel like Una spent waaaay too much time by herself, beating herself up with introspection and constant "what ifs". That alone can drive anyone batty! Inwardly, she seemed to go through a never-ending analysis of every moment and emotion, and yet outwardly she appeared almost wooden. Twice she is married, and both times on receiving terrible news regarding the husband of the moment, her reaction seems to be basically summed up in "Now isn't that a shame!" and she goes about her day. I feel like were I to  receive such news about someone I was passionately in love, with as she claims to be with both men *not married to them at the same time by the way ; -) *,  I would be a huge, disasterous, messy puddle of emotion on the ground, at least at some point, somewhere. Her biggest acknowlegement seems to be "yes, this quite hurts inside".

So, my lesson learned here: when I go to write my novel one day - if I see my work approaching the 700-1000 page mark (doubtful, but just hypothetically speaking), I will definitely need to make sure that the characters are in riveting enough, and the action fast-paced enough to have the reader gladly meet me at the end (or even sadly, as they might want me to continue lol)  and not just mildly interesting enough to where the reader is saying "well, I've read this far, I guess I might as well see what happens" even though they know they will never want to pick up the book again. No, definitely always leave them wanting the next installment - JK Rowling managed to do it! 

And just for some fun comedic element, I've tacked on a couple topic-related videos below, Enjoy!:

A cute pirate song about a captain's unhappy wife:

And a clip from my favorite animated series, Family Guy, featuring Peter entertaining Ahab's white whale as a house guest: