Monday, December 6, 2010

The Shorter Side of Melville

Last week’s pitiful lament that no one writes "short" about Melville brought some suggestions:

Poet John Guzlowski recommends a science fiction book called The Wind Whales of Ishmael by Philip Jose Farmer. There’s no description of the book on Amazon, but here’s one of the reader reviews that gives a sense of the book:

“Phil Farmer has cleverly used historical and fictional characters in many of his stories. This novel propels Ishmael of Moby Dick fame from the mast of the ship Rachel, sailing the South Seas in 1842, into the far, far future of Earth. Farmer attributes this "time travel" experience as a consequence of looking at the cryptic carvings engraved upon Queequeg's coffin. Additional references to Moby Dick show up throughout the story. Ishmael is saved from drowning by a providential appearance of the harpooners coffin and on several occasions he ponders about Ahab and his obsession with The Whale. “

Ishmael find himself in a future with a swollen red Sun, oceans evaporated to the point where islands appear to be mountains and the primary means of travel are lighter than air ships that rely on sails and air bladders. Ishmael quickly established himself as a warrior leader and after disposing several kinds of vicious predators gets a kingdom and the girl.”

160 pages.

On Facebook, several people drew my attention to The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch. Here’s an excerpt of the Publisher’s Weekly review on Amazon:

“Sweeping pathos, historical knowledge, philosophical density and gruesome violence make Busch's 19th work of fiction both profound and a page-turner. Busch's articulate narrator, William Bartholomew, served as a Union sniper in the Civil War until an explosion maimed his face; now it's 1867, and Bartholomew works as an investor in New York City, hiding his scars behind a pasteboard mask. The Civil War may be over, but slavery isn't: slave children are stuck at a Florida school, and Jessie, a Creole prostitute romantically involved with Bartholomew, entangles him in a plot to bring them North to freedom. Bartholomew seeks help from Herman Melville, once a bestselling novelist, now a customs inspector (the "night inspector") in Manhattan's shipyards. Rapacious journalist Samuel Mordecai tags along, hoping for scoops on the demimonde of the docks. After struggles with corrupt bureaucrats and money-hungry merchants, Bartholomew's mission collapses in a grisly climax.”

304 pages.

And there were several votes for Andrew Delbanco’s biography, Melville: His World and Work (446 pages, which, personally, I would only call "short" in comparison to the 2000-page, 2-volume biography).

Finally, this one was recommended and sounds intriguing: Edward F. Edinger, Melville's Moby Dick – An American Nekyia (Studies in Jungian Psychology By Jungian Analysts)

From the information on Amazon: “The great American novel Moby-Dick describes symbolically Herman Melville's stormy spiritual voyage. It is also a profound expression of Western civilization in transition. Edward Edinger approaches Moby-Dick as a psychological document, a symbolic record of an intense inner experience which, like a dream, needs interpretation and elaboration of its images for their meaning to emerge fully. Central to Edinger's penetrating commentary is the concept of nekyia, signifying a descent to the underworld -- that is, an encounter with the unconscious. Thus, the subtitle of this work underscores the correspondence between the deep internal struggle from which Melville's masterpiece emerged and the hidden complexities within us all.” -- Midwest Book Review

The winner, at 156 pages.


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