Thursday, October 2, 2008
Another of the novels that were really influential for me is Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund. Anyone who was around me at the time got very sick of hearing about this novel. What I loved most is that Naslund took one line from Moby Dick and used it to create an entire world for her character: Ahab says in one small side conversation that he left behind a new wife and a small child, and Naslund seized on that to wonder about the wife, and what her world was like. A feminist reimagining of how the world of Nantucket in that period works. Comics have done this for years (it's called a retcon, where a back story is re-examined and expanded), but there are only a few novels that do it as far as I know (the most notable to me being Wide Sargasso Sea ).
What grabbed me most, though, was the first line. As I've said before, the first line of a novel is the most important thing to me. That first line has to wind me up enough to shoot me through the rest of the book. This one is not only good, it's one of the ones that make my top five list of all time. She says "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband, nor my last." I was floored. I don't even remember what I went into the book store for that night. I walked immediately to the counter and bought the book. And it didn't disappoint from that point forward, either. My favorite scenes are when this young girl goes to sea on a whaler disguised as a young boy--the way Naslund writes about the terror and the freedom...it was awesome.
I got to meet her twice; once at a reading she gave, and later at a conference. The first time, I'd written a poem in response to the novel, and I got to give her the chapbook that the poem was collected in. She said she liked the poem (I may put it up here at some point later if I feel like I can stand the embarassment).
The second time, the novel I submitted only took 3rd, but I got to meet her. She said she liked my entry, and I got to tell her how much I loved this novel. You could have knocked me over with a feather that whole week after.