This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Off in the car to do some chores… we’ll see how much Moby-Dick we get done. I was just reading a—some more of Mary Miller’s novel, because I need to interview her or, or moderate her event. [Rumbling sound.] And I want to ask her—this is a mental note. This is necessary, to me, if not to you. I want to remind myself to ask her: did she have—did her editor give her trouble about the lovebugs? There’s a phenomenon, a phenomenon… we call lovebugs down where Mary and I are from. Mary has lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and I’m from the… Alabama Gulf Coast. And there’s a—there are these things called lovebugs that I’m not sure how far—rrrrrr—I’ve never seen them around here, in Northern Mississippi. I’m not sure what the regional… where they stay. Geographically. [Sounds of the road.] They’re wispy… black bugs with… tiny orange heads. They fffff-float around conjoined… [road rumbling] because they’re in the act of making love. They’re, they’re, they’re, they reach plague-like, uh… numbers. They, they’re everywhere, and they get on and in everything, as Mary very beautifully describes. But she doesn’t really—she doesn’t tell you what a lovebug is. She just mentions that the lovebugs are out, it’s lovebug season, the lovebugs are getting in her narrator’s mouth, and… all over his car, ruining the paint job. These are things that lovebugs do.
But there’s no… and I admire this. There’s no…
Now, I suppose Herman Melville would’ve stopped and given you a long lesson on lovebugs, and that would’ve been fine. But we do it a different way now, Herman. And, uh, I’ll be surprised if Mary didn’t get some pushback from her editor on the subject.
But we’re here to talk about Moby-Dick.
[Something rattles in the back of the car.]
Our sewer line… there’s a crack in our sewer line. That doesn’t have to do with Moby-Dick, other than the nautical [short laugh]… the… watery… the dire…
[Long pause. Faint rattling. The sound of the road.]
As I mentioned, my parents visited. They—it’s Sunday now. It—oh, this is interesting. It’s Sunday, so when y—when there’s a crack in your sewer line, who do you call?
Well, in our case, you call the… City of Oxford Electric, Water, and Sewer Department, who are under one roof and one… much like, I don’t wanna compare them to the Holy Trinity, so I won’t.
One department. [Brakes squeaking.] Never mind. Indivisible. Three in one. Okay, I’ve said too much. And it’s St. Patrick’s Day, speaking of the shamrock. This is Sunday, March 17th, 2019, as I speak. St. Patrick’s Day, he who supposedly explained the Trinity… didn’t he? With a shamrock?
[Other cars passing.]
[Rumbling. Roaring of the road.]
So, it turns out, you call the police! That’s what they told me to do! The automated system told me to call the police. I felt funny calling the police to tell them about my sewer.
I guess at this point, I can mention that…
Begun to realize that I have no insight. And you’ll have noticed this already, if you’ve kept up at all. I have no insight into Moby-Dick. Neh—nothing above the most… moderate… you know, lazy… obvious notions, which made me suddenly think, “Wait! Do…”
You know, and I thought of this as I read Chapter Twenty… Two? In which the Pequod sets sail, and it’s magnificent.
It’s Christmas morning. Icy… spray… the… encasing everyone as if they’re in suits of… translucent armor, and the ship itself with enormous tusks of icicles, imagi—unimaginably large icicles, forming… making the ship… making the Pequod into a kind of a… a monster! A, a… noble and… uh, awe-inspiring monster. A, a… creature, a god!
Uh, I just saw a dead possum on the side of the road. I’m sorry.
Anyhow, so wh—so as I was reading that, and thinking about how—how beautiful this chapter is, I thought, what, what am I going to add to this? As I’ve often expressed before. And this time I thought, I probably… there are probably hundreds of—not only of articles… I mean, thousands. How many things have been written about Moby-Dick? I have to be—not plagiarizing—but doing something… wuh, wuh, wuh, it’s not plagiarizing, it’s, it’s just that everyone probably starts at the same baseline of observations about every chapter of Moby-Dick, and no doubt everything I’ve said so far has been said by someone else before at some point in time, and no matter that they are my fresh, uh… pure… [stifled laugh] kneejerk responses—and what good is a kneejerk response to anything?
Your first idea is never your…
[Rhythmic clicking of the turn signal.]
There’s a lot of complicated things to think about.
The idea that perhaps…
I’m gonna choose to see obviousness as a strength.
Anyhow. So that’s Chapter Twenty-Two. And I haven’t even talked about the two… old Quakers, who are so touching in that chapter, as they… reluctantly, uh… leave the Pequod after piling—pil—piloting it out of harbor, and they seem like a couple of parents who are dropping their child off at college, I guess.
“Now, you haven’t forgotten…? Do you need anything? Now, remember! Hey, that, uh, the barrel with the molasses in it is, uh, kinda leaky! So keep an eye on tha…”
It’s very sweet, and, uhhh… and they long to be… you know, they’re old, and they no longer can—look. I can identify with this. They’re old and they no longer… can truly participate in life. [Laughter.] But they… their tender feelings for the arduous journey remain.
Uhhhh… Chapter Twenty-Three is…
Okay. As I said, my parents…
Okay, let’s leave aside Chapter Twenty-Three for a minute.
My parents, uh… were visiting. My sister… i—i—if I—I don’t know if you can tell that I’m more slow-witted than usual, but driving and talking… never mind, I’ve been through all this before in another project, but driving and talking—I’ll just repeat myself—are… I don’t know, I guess everyone does it now with a real facility and even flair, but it’s not my cup of tea.
[Rattling of glass object or objects from back of car. Deep inhalation and ragged sigh. Rattling continues.]
This way, please, to continue on our journey.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
You may also like to read along with the text of the novel here (highly recommended).