“Jeffrey Ford is one of the few writers who uses wonder instead of ink in his pen.” – Jonathan Carroll
A bold and intriguing fabulist novel that reimagines two of the most legendary characters in American literature—Captain Ahab and Ishmael of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick—from the critically acclaimed Edgar and World Fantasy award-winning author of The Girl in the Glass and The Shadow Year.
At the end of a long journey, Captain Ahab returns to the mainland to confront the true author of the novel Moby-Dick, his former shipmate, Ishmael. For Ahab was not pulled into the ocean’s depths by a harpoon line, and the greatly exaggerated rumors of his untimely death have caused him grievous harm—after hearing about Ahab’s demise, his wife and child left Nantucket for New York, and now Ahab is on a desperate quest to find them.
Ahab’s pursuit leads him to The Gorgon’s Mirror, the sensationalist tabloid newspaper that employed Ishmael as a copy editor while he wrote the harrowing story of the ill-fated Pequod. In the penny press’s office, Ahab meets George Harrow, who makes a deal with the captain: the newspaperman will help Ahab navigate the city in exchange for the exclusive story of his salvation from the mouth of the great white whale. But their investigation—like Ahab’s own story—will take unexpected, dangerous, and ultimately tragic turns.
Told with wisdom, suspense, a modicum of dry humor and horror, and a vigorous stretching of the truth, Ahab’s Return charts an inventive and intriguing voyage involving one of the most memorable characters in classic literature, and pays homage to one of the greatest novels ever written.
From the Author:
If there’s one thing my new novel, Ahab’s Return, or The Last Voyage, is not, that is a work of scholarship. One need not have read Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, or The White Whale to enjoy my book. If a reader has merely heard of Captain Ahab, and knows he had a run-in with a great white whale, that’s background enough. This is not to say that the experience of reading my novel wouldn’t be somewhat enhanced by the reading of what I once heard an elderly woman describe as “that wicked book.”
Wicked or not, Melville’s opus is a masterpiece, and I recommend it to you unreservedly. The last time I read Moby-Dick, some three or four years ago, I came to the last line of the last paragraph of the last page, and realized Ahab wasn’t definitively dead. I had not seen him die in the novel. Granted, his death is strongly suggested. After all, the line of a harpoon hurled deep into the flesh of Moby Dick has just wrapped around the crazed captain’s throat. The white whale dives, and Ahab is pulled overboard and under “the great shroud of the sea.“
Yes, the situation seems dire, but, well, I decided he had survived. What can I say other than I took advantage of one of the great perks of being a fiction writer, which is that you get to ask, “What if?” and – more important – you get to answer that question. And so, you can read about how Captain Ahab escapes and what becomes of him Ahab’s Return. Also, I attribute the authorship of Moby-Dick to the sailor Ishmael. We find that Ishmael’s retelling of the hunt for the whale takes certain liberties with the truth. We hear from witnesses to the actual voyage, other than Ahab and Ishmael. We find out what really happened. Another of Melville’s characters is also snatched up and dealt a real disservice in my story. I don’t want to give away too much. You’ll see for yourself. I’ll tell you this much, it’s not Queequeg or Starbuck; that would be another novel entirely. In truth, the fellow to whom I allude isn’t even from Melville’s Moby-Dick. (What if . . .?)
Even though it is not a work of scholarship, Ahab’s Return is teeming with shards of history, gleaming nuggets of 1853 New York City that are mostly forgotten today. There is Seneca Village, a community on a piece of the land in what is now Central Park, which was owned and farmed by predominantly black farmers. When Irish and German immigrants, rejected as Papists in the city proper, were looking for a place to settle, Seneca Village took them in and all lived harmoniously. As well, we hear of the Indian caves that lie beneath a giant tulip tree at the northern end of Manhattan, where, according to an inane folk legend, the Lenape supposedly sold the island to the Dutch for sixty guilders. And I’m pretty sure you’ll not have heard that John Jacob Astor made his second fortune, after fur-trapping, from buying and transporting opium from Turkey to China. All this and more is revealed within.
I’ve established what Ahab’s Return, or The Last Voyage is not, but here’s what it is – a journey back from the dead; the adventures of a character rent free from his pages; a mystery; a monster story; a book of assassins and friendships; a hunt for a Leviathan fiercer than the great whale; a contemplation of Whiteness; an act of redemption; a tale of a father and his son; earlier incarnations of an opioid epidemic, fake news, and racial oppression – all of it told by one George Harrow, head writer for a speculative rag of outlandish creation, The Gorgon’s Mirror. For George, a scribe of the penny press, continually asks, “What if . . .?”