The Voyager

From The New York Times:

Marshall-popup Writing in The Atlantic last year, presumably while finishing work on “The Passages of H. M.,” a novel based on the life of Herman Melville, Jay Parini declared that the historical novel “has become our primary form of fiction.” The present, he speculated, “can seem too bright, too close,” requiring “the filter of memory” to sort out and deliver the profound insights readers hope to find in novels. Going a step farther, he argued that it is in fiction like Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln” or Russell Banks’s “Cloudsplitter” that “one gets ‘real’ history.”

Parini, a poet, biographer and literary critic as well as a novelist, can write with admirable lyric intensity: “In these islands, the sun shone as if from within, the moon burned in his brain. Water became sky, and night exchanged its sultry qualities with day.” But even these passages make us hunger for Melville’s own words: “Hither, and thither, on high, glided the snow-white wings of small, unspeckled birds; these were the gentle thoughts of the feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rushed mighty Leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks; and these were the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea.”

More here. (Note: I am posting this review mainly for the Melville quote in the last paragraph. To this day, Moby Dick remains my favorite American novel, one that finally made me appreciate the storms in the souls of men that make them go whaling. Read it again if it has been more than 5 years since you read it last.)