This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Ehhrrrrruhhh, I’m extrapolating wildly… errrhhhurriihhhh.
[A few light piano notes, diminuendo. Sigh.]
I don’t even feel like talking about it. I—I’m sure other people have… thought about it. But the Ishmael I’m feeling now…
[Undulating piano notes.]
You know, Melville probably didn’t worry about any of this! He probably just wrote it the way he felt like writing it. But… and leave it to, you know. “Leave her to heaven.”
You know, leave it to the reader to piece Ishmael together from this fractured mirror.
What I’m saying is, I can only imagine Ish—and, you know, he painted me into this corner. I can only imagine Ishmael as a guy who went through a harrowing adventure and then [stifled laugh] spent the rest of his life trying to make sense of it. [Short laugh. Piano burst.] You know, in the novel True Grit, which you think of as being narrated by Maddie Ross, fuh, the fourteen year old heroine… it’s actually narrated by an old woman, who is remembering what it was like to be a fourteen year old, but it’s very much…
An old woman’s narrative. That’s a tricky one. That’s a tricky book. Trickier than… you might think.
[Loud, crashing Beethoven. End of recording.]
Chapter Thirty-Five, he’s climbing the masthead, and you know, for a little while, we… return to the old… dumb Ishmael we all love.
“Hey, I’m not so great at mastheads!”
I mean, we get some of the… pedantic Ishmael. You’ve—go back and look at my theory, non-existent reader.
Anyway, we come back to the Ishmael we all know and love. The… [long pause with scratching]… you know… the goofball!
“Mastheads aren’t my thing, man! I climb up there and I’m just thinkin’ about… you know. Dreamy dreams. Sure is nice up there. They say certain kinda guys don’t even wanna see a whale! You know, you come back down, and somebody says, ‘Wow, there’s never any whales when you’re up there. What’s up with that? Is it that there are no whales, or are you just terrible at masthead stuff?’”
“Oh, I just enjoy bein’ up there on the masthead, shootin’ the breeze with Queequeg, and…”
THERESA: [Distant and unintelligible words.]
JACK: “I tell ya, you’re up there, and…”
JACK: [Throat clearing.]
THERESA: Where’d you go, Big Boy?
JACK: I don’t know if you can hear Theresa. She’s in the hallway, trying to introduce… the… fairly domesticated cats to the definitely domesticated cats.
THERESA: She was goin’ after Big Boy but I couldn’t tell if it was friendly, or…
JACK: Who was?
[Throat clearing. Lip smack.]
“Anyway, yeah, you could get up there in the masthead and… and just, uhh… really your soul… becomes one with everything. Until your foot slips, and… horror… existential horror returns you to your body, the site of all horror.”
Hey! There go—what’s that car… there was a car going by. Oh! Another car. Wow! A third car? That’s like—that’s the most cars I’ve ever seen on this road. Three.
[Recorder goes off… and back on!]
Where are you?
THERESA: In my office.
JACK: Oh, I’m recording, ‘cause I was—what do you call those kind of windows? I heard you call them something. On the front—that—in these little…
THERESA: Cape Cod windows.
JACK: Cape Cod windows?
THERESA: That’s what Leslie called them.
JACK: Hmm! I didn’t think that was the phrase you used the other day, but it’s interesting ‘cause Moby-Dick, uh, there’s a lot of talk of Cape Cod. I think Stubb is from Cape Cod. One of those guys is.
Well, that’s extra frosting. On the cake of… my livelihood.
I was just thinking, I’m staring out of this upstairs window. I’m looking at a little bird. A little birdie on a branch. Little birdie on a tiny little branch.
How I despise my own cloying, mnnnh! Verbiage.
Uh, no. I was just thinking. As I was reciting, or… uh… whatever you call it. Pontificating about mastheads. I was staring out of this upstairs window, like a… as if I were on a masthead. I didn’t do it consciously. I just wanted you to know that. Because I love you. Stranger. And anyway, Theresa says these are called Cape Cod windows, so it all fits together. The whole… it all comes crashing in.
[A new recording.]
All right, this is the way it is. My head is filled with work. I just got done with a meeting with, uh, my friend Kate! We worked. We wrote an outline. So can I remember what happened in this chapter? Chapter Thirty-Six? It was a… a very important chapter!
Where are you, Theresa?
THERESA (from far away): Working.
JACK: Oh, I’m sorry. You’re tryin’ to work, and…
JACK: I’m—I’ll go downstairs. Maybe I won’t be as…
THERESA: [Unintelligible.] It’s not bothering me. I’m just…
JACK: But working is not… You don’t want to hear me jabbering.
THERESA: That doesn’t bother me!
JACK: Really! [Laughter.] Well… I guess…
JACK: Yeah, well, let me know if, uh… [Throat clearing.] I’ll shut my door!
THERESA: Don’t do that!
JACK: Why not?
THERESA: What if those kitties want to come in there?
JACK: Oh. Okay.
This is a big… this chapter’s not kiddin’ around!
“Aye, Flask! Spy him there! His head’s like an egg! Somethin’s gonna crack out of it at any moment. A big white chicken!”
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick. Please read the original novel here, if you like (highly recommended).