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Goshen Public Library and Historical Society

Across the Desk

by Janet Hamill

February 9, 2000

A wonderfiuly imaginative and poetic work has just arrived on the shelves of current fiction at the Goshen Public Library and Historical Society. Ahab's Sife or, The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund is inspired by a passage from Moby Dick. Captain Peleg, in conversation with Ismael, mentions that Captain Ahab has a wife, "- not three voyages wedded - a sweet resigned girl...." That wife, as imagined by Ms. Naslund, is Una Spenser, a woman of strong and intelligent voice, whose life, like her husband's is dominated by the sea. Ahab's wife tells Una's many stories: As a child, she's sent to live in a lighthouse, in order to escape her brutish, religion-mad father; at sixteen, she runs away to sea, disguised as a cabin boy, and discovers adventure, disaster, and early passion with a sailor; she enters a loving marriage with Ahab, before the white whale takes his leg and drives him to madness; and as a widow, Una opens a school for freed slaves in pre Civil War New England, forging a new life for herself in the company of Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglas and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Borrowing heavily from literary sources and history, Ahab's wife, non the less, stands alone and intact as a "female companion" to Melville's classic. Sena Jeter Naslund has immersed herself so deeply in the maritime world of nineteenth century America that the read feels she has dreamed it, if not actually lived it. (Praise must also be given to William Morrow for the high quality production of Ahab's wife. The novel employs facsimile nineteenth century typeface for chapter headings and is illustrated with original wood cuttings by Christopher Wormell.)

New to the shelves of current non-fiction at the library is Garcia: An American Life by Blair Jackson. For fans of the late, great leader of the Grateful Dead, this is the biography you've been waiting for. Though slight on details of Jerry Garcia's personal life, Garcia is definifive when it comes to the musician's prolific songwriting and associations with other musicians. A veteran rock journalist, Blair Jackson has written about Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead for many years and served as publisher of the Dead's unique fanzine, The Golden Road. But one shouldn't expect a fawning fan's eulogy from Mr. Jackson. The author pairs his love and admiration of Garcia and the Dead with a critical appreciation of the social and historical contexts that gave birth to the Dead phenomenon. Jackson shows the sage of Garcia's life (1941-1995) coursing through the Beat movement of his native San Francisco, Ken Kesey's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" days with the Merry Pranksters, and the counter-culture flowering of Haight-Ashbery. Garcia takes us backstage at the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, and Altamont, and into the studio for the making of such memorable records as American Beauty and Working Man's Dead. For many, Jerry Garcia was the embodiment of the sixties' ideal of personal and creative freedom. in Garcia: An American Life, Blair Jackson substantiates these claims.

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