This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
[Long pause. The dishwasher is running.]
Ahab jumps out of bed at night, his eyes blazing. He is the Prometheus… with… buzzards lickin’ at his gizzard. And yet he… is the creator of the buzzard.
Ahab is the liver and the buzzard…
[Extremely long pause. Dishwasher.]
Ooahhohhhh. You know.
Sometimes it’s okay to stop talking.
“It suddenly occurs to me, Ishmael, in Chapter Forty-Five, that maybe you think I’m full of beans. [Throat clearing.] Well, I’m tellin’ ya—everything—this is very… this story is very likely. It’s not even a very weird story when you… consider the subject matter. Because whales are… crazy! [Throat clearing.] For example, maybe you think it’s crazy that Captain Ahab… thinks he can go out and find the same whale that bit his leg off. Not so! I’ve personally known three guys that found a… whale… found a whale they… found an escaped whale. Years later, in some cases. And when they poked it with their harpoons, well, gosh darn it if they didn’t find their same old personalized harpoon from before, stuck in the same whale! So. I think I’ve proven my case pretty well.”
“Suck on that! I wonder to myself, why would I tell you… an entire novel’s worth of a story… and then stop and… tell you some more stories that are supposed to make you believe the novel more… but why would you believe these stories any more than you would believe… ucchhh! Forget that part. Let me continue. Next you’re gonna tell me, ‘This Moby Dick sounds like quite a character, all right, but… I can’t quite believe somebody could just see a… whale in the ocean and think, oh yeah, I know that whale from another whale.’ Well, I guess you’ve never heard of all the famous whales! Why, there was… Mumbly Joe…”
That’s a Simpsons reference, I think. I’m sorry. I mean, it wasn’t a whal—there was a whaling episode of The Simpsons, in which Marge was writing a romance novel that had some similarities to Moby-Dick. But Mumbly Joe… I can’t recall the… I think Homer was trying to think of someone’s name, and he said, “Mumbly Joe.”
“Yes, so you think you can’t recognize one whale from another. Well, let me tell you about old… uh… Johnny Whaleface, the famous whale who had a… I don’t know. There was this one whale that seemed to have hieroglyphics on its back. That was a crazy-lookin’ whale. And he had some name, too, like… you know… San Francisco Pete.”
“That wasn’t the whale’s name. But trust me, they all had names. I’ll list four of ‘em. Veritably the whale rou—muhtuhhdatuhhtaaahw. What was that? I was trying to say ‘Mount Rushmore.’ The Mount Rushmore of whales. Four famous whales that were weird-lookin’ in their own ways. And believe me, if they were in a police lineup you could pick that whale out right away. So! Cased closed. Once again, Ishmael is number one, and everybody can… just eat my dust… as I… barrel forward… into my list of whale facts. Uhhh, okay! Maybe you’ll say, ‘Whales can’t be that big and powerful like you’re talkin’ about. You’re just full of malarkey.’ Oh, yeah? I say to you, have you ever been onboard a whal—a whaling vessel? I thought not. So why don’t you shove it?”
“Okay, uh, what about whales getting mad and picking on people? Yes, you better believe they get mad! Why, there’s—I’m gonna list six or seven times when a whale got so f—pissed off and… just started followin’ people around, and…”
“And, you know, goin’ nuts on ‘em. You know! Whales are crazy! Anyway… uh… I’m gonna wrap it up here, but I just… in conclusion, I want you to know that anything you hear about a whale is probably true. The crazier it sounds, the truer it probably is. So don’t—you know. Don’t get on my nerves!”
[Laughter. Recording ends.]
“I’m still… I… being Ahab… no! Wait! I’m Ishmael! Well, you know what? That’s an interesting thing I just said.”
Hold on, I gotta see which chapter this was… that I just read.
“Hello. If you’re anything like me, Ishmael, you wanna figure out what makes Ahab tick. Several times I’ve described him as a monomaniac. And I stand by that. But! Then why is he still—you know, he can’t, well, he can just be a monomaniac. I guess monommm—maniacal people have to go about their… you know, let’s say you’re… well…! Uh, Captain Ahab is right here, let’s use him as an example. He’s still got to, you know, go to the bathroom. I—that’s not something that I put in the book. Toward the end of the chapter, though, I do say, ‘Some of these things are so complicated, I can’t even verbalize them!’ So… it’s good to know… that…”
[Long pause. Coffee drinking. Clatter of cup onto coaster.]
Okay. Let me… let me get a grip on things! Okay.
“Let’s just say Captain Ahab has a one-track mind. He wants to… get Moby Dick. Yeah! Well! How’s he gonna go about it? Yunhhuh! He seems to still, duhhhhhhhh, more or less be in charge of a whaling vessel that has a, a job, which is not killing one particular whale, but killing lots of whales, you know? And… just a murderous… mission. Which Ahab appears to approach with professionalism! Despite… his… stated… desire… for one… brutal end.”
“Here he goes! Uh… well, h—yuhyuh, you know, I’m Ishmael, but I’m gonna kinda try to imagine what he’s thinking. And in fact, m—I’ll sort of merge with him and gradually Ahab’s thoughts will take over the chapter.”
“It could be that Ahab, uh… has just got, uh… the habits of a whaling man deep in his bones. So he’s gonna… do his job! It could be that, uh, and this is stretching it. It could be that ehhhhhh—every whale he kills he’s just like, ‘Oh, one more whale. I—I’m killin’ every whale ‘til I get to Moby Dick, and every whale I kill that’s not Moby Dick brings me closer to killing the whale that is Moby Dick. Uhh… Uhh!”
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
Please follow the original text of Moby-Dick here, if you like (highly recommended).