This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
I gave the wrong impression of my mentor Eugene to this podcaster. I think I painted him as some sort of… you know, oh, who knows where his wandering im—imagination will lead him now? But in reality, you know, I can’t remember which side he was on, but either you should be able to use orange juice in barbecue sauce or you should not. I think he was on the pro-orange juice side, but… whichever way it was, he was really adamant about it.
[Long pause. Lip smack.]
This has something to do with Queequeg, who, despite his… what Melville would have thought of as his exotic trappings—and of course Melville makes this quite clear, that he thinks of Queequeg as very principled and… a man of… regular habits. Which seems to be… painted as an admirable thing.
This is of no interest, except fff—if you look, you’ll notice that the great iconoclasts are… [long pause] can verge on the puritanical.
I’m onto something.
I don’t have the mental capacity [stifled laugh] to pursue it. Any…
Would you say “farther” because to pursue something implies, uhhh, physical distance?
See? I can’t even…
This is the discouragement.
We’re only on Chapter Four.
I think maybe I’m allergic to this house that we bought. My head hurts. My sinuses are… irritated.
I was on the phone with my mother earlier. She was telling me great tidings of woe. Prophecies. [Sigh.] Bad weather coming. She wanted to know if we could hear the tornado sirens from here. We’ve moved farther out from town. Yes, I heard them. They test ‘em once a week. I assured her… well… “Do you have a room…?” You know. She grilled me on what room we would… if we have a room proper for… you know, cringing in.
Oh, boy, my head sure hurts. I’m about—I can’t do this much… longer.
Chapters Five and… Six.
Discipline and experience. There are no substitutes for those qualities. Oahhohhhh.
Queequeg. “Do you think he’s rude because he uses his harpoon to reach across the table and stab a beefsteak? Well, do you notice how smooth he is about it? He’s a smooth dude. Because he’s got discipline and experience, not like these dumb son-of-a-bitch Vermont yokel motherfuckers.” [Laughter.] Sorry! Please pardon my language. “Comin’ down here with their fancy gloves and gettin’ their buttons—nice buttons, they’re so concerned about their special straps and buttons. They don’t… you know, come on with these guys. They’re no Queequeg, I’ll tell you that.”
You know, by coincidence, I was watching Fat City [throat clearing], the John Huston adaptation of the Leonard Gardner novel, earlier. Did I say that already? Hu—have I mentioned that my head hurts?
[Rattling sigh. Sniff.]
And once again it’s about men with… discipline and, uh… expertise. Knowledge and experience, for all the good it does them.
And I suppose in Moby-Dick as well, also adapted by John Huston, as I mentioned before, uh… I’m not sure—not sure all their… almost supernatural precision… is much in the face of madness and… implacable… cosmic death [laughter].
So, there you have it. The boxer’s body in Fat City, a site of… tragedy. Of… nehhhhhhh.
[End of the recording.]
Will it bother you if I record my… Moby-Dick thing? You’ll hear me talking to myself?
THERESA: No, that’s fine.
JACK: I thought I could [stifled laugh] spice it up [short laugh. Rattling sigh.] By… I don’t know, now I introduced you as a character. [A single light, high-pitched ding.] Whoa, whoa. You gettin’ a text from Leslie?
THERESA: Dix—uh, Jaime.
JACK: Oh, okay. Who’d you say first?
THERESA: Dixie. I don’t know. I saw her name in the text [unintelligible].
JACK: Oh, okay. [Lip smack.] Uh… okay. Well. I need some kind of gimmick to… make it interesting. [Laughter.] Some kind of gimmick [coffee being poured] to make Moby-Dick interesting. A gimmick like a… whale! [Slam of coffee pot onto surface. Throat clearing.] All right, I’m gonna go upstairs and talk to myself.
[Extremely long pause with footsteps. Short throat clearing. Sniff. Creaking of some sort.]
I think we’re on Chapters Seven and Eight. I meant to just read just one chapter between each… recording, but, uh… [sniff] they’re really short chapters. I didn’t remember that. That’s a revelation you can… [labored breathing] do with what you will. [Sniff. Pause.] Pollen alert today. [Sniff.] I should take a… [long pause, short throat clearing] pill. Soon.
I don’t think I checked the mail yesterday! I can walk down to the mailbox, and… check the mail.
So in, I guess it’s Chapter Six, you would almost expect a… sparkling… Gershwin tone poem as our narrator glides motion-picture-camera-like—there’s a bad adjective—through the sunny streets… Now it’s later in the day and there’s a storm, because why not? That was a good lesson for me as a person. Put a storm in there if necessary. Who cares? You know? Suit the weather to the mood. And he goes in the church and looks at the plaques on the wall… commemorating the… souls who have perished by means of the sea. And he does something really interesting. [Long pause.] He says, the narrator does, “Hey.” [Laughter.] Why do I always make him say, “Hey”? Uhm…
“Look. Look at… I’m gonna… Hey, listen. I might not have all these details right, but here’s what I think the plaques said.” And then he lists the contents of three… uhm… tablets, marble tablets inscribed with the… [exhalation] gruesome ends of the brave seafarers.
Now, why would he do that? It’s fascinating. Because we’ve taken him at his word. We don’t… you know. We enter a contract starting on page one. We expect…
This bit of unreliability, perhaps… is that a word? In any case… hmm!
It’s a good tool, whether you’re a fiction writer or a con man.
Ah! I just thought of that. That Herman Melville wrote The Confidence Man as well. I’ve never read it. I remember Theresa reading in her… was that undergraduate days, or was that graduate school?
I’m gonna go downstairs and ask her. This is just the kind of… but what I was gonna say is… that… [sigh] it’s interesting… i—it adds to the reliability of the narrator that he says he can’t remember certain details of his story.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
Popula is 100% ad-free, reader-supported journalism accountable only to you. Every dollar of your subscription goes straight to our work. Thank you for supporting Popula.