Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Big New Novel About Melville...Still Waiting for the Melville Villanelle

There’s a new novel just out now about the life of Herman Melville: The Passages of H.M. by Jay Parini. The reviews have not been raves, but sometimes you just know that a book is right for you.

My big beef, though, is the length (450 pages). Why must everything about Melville be so dang looooong (Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund , 704 pages; the classic Melville biography, 2000 pages in two volumes)? How about some flash fiction on Melville for a change of pace? A haiku?

The Washington Post review of the Parini book is here: “The finer elements of this novel are sometimes submerged beneath its more ordinary sections, but "The Passages of H.M." remains a sensitive introduction to Melville's stormy life and imagination. Anyone setting off into the great writer's novels, or returning to them after years away, might enjoy this thoughtful re-imagining of the man who remains America's Milton.”

Here’s the New York Times Book Review on the book: “For those who haven’t braved a reading of “Moby-Dick,” yet retain some curiosity about this great American novel and its author, “The Passages of H. M.” may satisfy — but at the expense of the “truth” of Herman Melville’s life. The man is, from this distance, unknowable. Any biographical treatment can only hope to be, as Ishmael describes his unfinished record of all the world’s knowledge of whales, “but the draught of a draught.”


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.