Moby Dick – Part I: Somebody should make a story out of this

Having had my mental energy usurped by a recent upswing in the intensity of my day job, it seems the perfect time to reintroduce my critique of Moby Dick from my former web site. It is a two-parter; the first part is impressions of the first half of the book. The second part was written after finishing the novel.

Part I: Half way through Moby Dick

I found a free Kindle version of Moby Dick. Since I am a sucker for finding out what’s going on with the classics, this was a clear incentive to give it a try. I should make it plain that I am only half-way through at present.

Most people think Moby Dick is a long book, but it is actually three long books. The first is a whaling primer, complete with whale classifications, history, and even a couple of chapters on how whaling is depicted in the fine arts. The second book is a defense of the occupation against other mariners, and general society, who may be inclined to look down upon the whaling trade. The third, and smallest, book is a novel, generally touching upon the subject of whaling.

There may be an audience for each of these three books. Unfortunately, the books are all mixed up, hodgepodge, into one. At the beginning of each chapter, the reader takes a spoonful of whale-product pot luck without knowing into which of the three books he is delving.

Three books in one, what a bargain!

Three books in one, what a bargain!

It is common among pieces of 19th century literature to meander into unfortunate asides that interrupt the narrative. Consequently, I am willing to give some leeway on this point. But Melville takes the inch I give and turns it into a mile, educating me on many topics about which I would just as soon remain ignorant, if I could save an hour by doing so. He spent a chapter explaining what’s wrong with the color white.

The storytelling itself (when it can be unearthed) suffers from a major point-of-view problem that would brand any modern author an untutored novice. Moby Dick is narrated by Ishmael, one of the crew of the ship. It does not take long for Ishmael to flee his own skin and flit about as a fly on the wall in places where his body is not present. The narrator describes scenes that Ishmael is in no position to see. Heartened by this omnipotent superpower, the narrator jumps into the heads of Ahab and his three ship’s officers to give us a glimpse of their most intimate thoughts.

You may be asking yourself, “Why has this dolt kept reading, if he finds so many problems with this book?” The answer is that there is one truly bright spot I hope will blossom in the second half.

In the actual narrative portions, when the story is really being told from the first-person, the prose is rather engaging. Melville’s style can be quite charming, as it was for almost three chapters in a row, in between sessions of Whaling 101 class. I’m hoping the last half of the book contains more of this type storytelling and less instruction and thought-reading.

I will continue reading, hoping that Ishmael is satisfied I’m now trained to competently follow the story of a fictitious whaling expedition. If I can also satisfy him that I want a chronicler of events as he experiences them, rather than a mind reader who presents me with every character’s thoughts, we may just be able to get along until the end.

It depends on your definition of Horror

I haven’t written about my Work In Progress in a while. And since I’ve got some time to kill while I wait for my last book to become a Best Seller, this might be a good time for an update.

My WIP is a collection of three novellas. It’s probably more accurate to call them two novelettes and a novella, but that takes more words to say, and who’s counting anyway? The genre is horror, kind of. It’s more psychological horror than anything revolving around chain saws and slack-jawed yokels. There’s really not much bloodshed in it at all, which is why I put the “kind of” after horror. I might call the novellas psychological thrillers, except I always think of spies or mobsters when I think psychological thriller, and there are neither of those, so I’m back to horror, kind of.

Poe. Not really his style of horror story.

Not really Poe’s style of horror story.

Then again, genre confusion is nothing new for me.

Whatever they are, I’ve finished the first drafts of all of them.

Yay!

Okay, party’s over; let’s get serious.

I had my first chance to read through them.

The two shorter pieces are entertaining, I think. They are not earth-shattering additions to the genre, whichever genre they happen to be, but I can see readers enjoying them as quick reads.

Definitely not Lovecraft's kind of horror.

Definitely not Lovecraft’s kind of horror story.

When it comes to the longer story, the feature presentation, if you will, I feel as if I’ve provided myself with good news and bad news. The good news is there are parts I think are quite good. The bad news is good parts are not enough to make a good story.

It’s not that the story is bad. It’s not, but as is, it’s not good enough.

What’s wrong with it? Well, for one thing, it’s probably too confusing. Confusing your readers is never good, unless you are an established post-modernist or something like that. In that case, confusing everyone just makes you a greater genius.

But I am neither a post-modernist nor a genius. At best, I am an adventuresome writer, playing with supernatural subject matter for the first time, and I may have gotten the Play-Doh colors all mixed up.

More in line with du Maurier's type of horror . . . but not really.

More in line with du Maurier’s type of horror story . . . but not really.

The fun thing in writing about unknown forces is that you get to make your own rules for what’s possible. Nothing is bound by the laws of physics we know. The trouble can be in remembering your new rules and applying them consistently. Plus, you’ve got to let the reader know the rules; they can be difficult to convey, without explicitly explaining them, when they are counter-intuitive to commonly known laws of nature.

Can this book be saved? I don’t know. I may be going too hard on myself, or too easy. I’ll have to get a second opinion, and then a few more after that.

All I know for sure is that I won’t even consider publishing it until I’m confident it’s a good quality, entertaining book, all the way through. How I get there from here will be my own horror story.