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The Passages of H.M.: A Novel of Herman Melville

Jay Parini.
Publisher Doubleday  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 8.5 x 5.75 x 1.25 inches
ISBN 9780385522779
Pages/Publication Date 454/2010
Daedalus Item Code 23518
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After imagining the life of Tolstoy in The Last Station, Jay Parini gives us this stirring novel about the attenuated literary career of Herman Melville. We see him first through the eyes of his long-suffering wife Lizzie, as the aging, angry, and drunken Herman wreaks domestic havoc in his New York home. Decades past his bestselling tales of seagoing adventure like Typee and Omoo, and lambasted for his epic but ungainly novel Moby-Dick, he spends his days trudging the docks of New York as a customs inspector. But Melville remembers his adventurous sea life, and within him is perhaps one more great work—the tale of a handsome sailor in the Napoleonic Wars, undone by one moment of uncontrollable rage.

"The lives of writers fascinate poet, biographer, and critic Parini, the author of novels about Tolstoy (The Last Station) and Walter Benjamin (Benjamin's Crossing). He now portrays the 'inscrutable' American original, Herman Melville, in a novel as mercurial as its subject. Parini has Melville's smart yet thwarted wife, Lizzie, narrate drolly in homebound chapters, while Melville tells epiphanic tales of his adventures at sea, the wellspring for his fiction. We also see him stoking a 'bonfire of language,' alarming his idol, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and experiencing a vision in the Holy Land. The daughter of a judge, Lizzie knew Melville was tempestuous, but she was unprepared for how demoralizing his drinking, depressions, and rage would become. Parini astutely contrasts the claustrophobia of the struggling Melville household with the boundless ocean and Melville's wild South Sea escapades, including his nearly mythic infatuations with alluring and unavailable young men.... Intermittently grim and witty, and catching fire the closer he comes to Melville's molten core, Parini's bold and mesmerizing novel ultimately deepens the mystery of Melville's incandescent genius."—Booklist

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