Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund had just been published. The year was 1999. A good friend’s husband was someone of import at the University of Louisville and it was during a university function that my friend met Naslund. This, of course, prompted her to read the book, and shortly thereafter practically demanded that I read it so we could talk about it. And I have been talking about it ever since.
So many details of this book have been committed to a permanent place in my mind and heart, not the least of which is the opening sentence: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” It takes a small reference to Captain Ahab’s wife and draws a story as deep and wide and full of adventure as Moby Dick. I’ve read both books. I liked this one far better.
When I first visited a friend in Florida, before we moved here, she and I were in the car when a discussion about our favorite books came up. I challenged her to read the first five pages of Ahab’s Wife, and if she could put it down without finishing the chapter, I would pay for lunch. Otherwise, she would pay. We shook hands. She drove to the nearest bookstore, bought the book, and I got in the driver’s seat heading to a restaurant while she read. And read. And I had to wait in the parking lot while she finished the chapter. Yes, she paid for lunch. In fact, I had to insist she not bring the book inside; she wanted to read through lunch. True story.
Naslund’s writing is exemplary, and this is one of the easiest reads ever. I wished for a life as exciting, even with the trials and tribulations the heroine Una endured. I wanted to live her life. I wanted to be Una, except for the obvious; I wanted her spirit. Indeed, I wanted to be Naslund. I wanted, and still do, to be able to write like that.
To this day I see the ocean, the ships sailing on it, and the lighthouses lining its shores differently now. It is my favorite book. For me, it is the book to which all others are compared. I’ve read it twice, and now realize I need to read it again. You should too. This is my strongest possible recommendation.
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