by Herman Melville
Having never read this classic but knowing a bit about it, I think I was expecting a dry, meandering discourse. But what this book is, is possibly the finest American novel. Seriously, I never believed that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn had a rival for the title of Great American Novel, but this just might be it. It has its share of meandering discourse, but also unexpected humor, both high and low; sheer drama; poetry; amusingly dated amateur scientific investigations; tragedy; and, of course, what may be the greatest character in American literature, Ahab.
Ahab is a masterpiece; he’s a compressed ball of madness and drive powered by a monstrous will to power, but Melville tempers his character with flashes of humanity and compassion, flashes which are driven back by Ahab’s overriding thirst for vengeance. While the entire opus has some of the most eloquent prose this side of Shakespeare – no kidding – it’s Ahab who gets the really good lines. “Ye see an old man cut down to the stump; leaning on a shivered lance; propped up on a lonely foot. 'Tis Ahab – his body's part; but Ahab's soul's a centipede, that moves upon a hundred legs. I feel strained, half stranded, as ropes that tow dismasted frigates in a gale; and I may look so. But ere I break, ye'll hear me crack; and till ye hear that, know that Ahab's hawser tows his purpose yet.” This is, quite simply, a mind-altering masterpiece.