In Ahab’s Return (Morrow, Aug.), Ford imagines that Herman Melville’s whaling captain survived the sinking of the Pequod.
How did you come up with a third act for Ahab?
One day, out of the blue, it came to me that at the end of Moby-Dick, you never really saw Ahab die. The harpoon line gets wound around his neck, and he’s pulled overboard as the white whale goes under. Chances are, Ahab’s not making it back for dinner that night. But, there’s always the slimmest possibility that something unusual may have happened, like the noose slipped up over his head and he survived. Then it was just a matter of what-if. Remember, there’s a spot in Moby-Dick where it says that Ahab has already returned from the dead once, somewhere off Cape Horn.
What led you to consider Ahab as more than just an archetype of monomaniacal obsession? And how would you like readers to think of him?
Ahab is a mix of Shakespearean tragedy and mid-19th-century melodrama. He’s constantly soliloquizing and cursing, bearing down and acting up. He’s ever strutting and fretting his hour, so to speak. The phenomenon that is Ahab works for Moby-Dick somehow. Don’t ask me to explain it. Still, I thought it might be interesting to explore a different story line with the character. He not only lost his ship and crew, but he also abandoned his wife and child. The latter tale was my focus for this one.
Were there other ideas you’d considered for what Ahab’s post-Pequod life would be like?
Early on, I saw him washed up on an island, brought back to life by some fantastic whim-wham, and ultimately ruling the local lemur population so that it did his bidding. It took a shamefully long time for me to send that one to the idea incinerator and move on.
Why did you choose to have Ahab’s search for his family take him to Manhattan’s Seneca Village?
I wanted to depict Seneca Village in its heyday. Multicultural, successful, with multiple churches and a proper school, people living in harmony and facing together the issues that beset them as a community. I used it because its eventual destruction and removal at the hands of white politicians is emblematic of the plight of African-Americans in early Manhattan. Many black-owned businesses, productive social organizations, and outlets for the arts were torn asunder by white society due to jealousy, financial competition, and out-and-out ignorance and bigotry. No matter what achievements African-Americans and other communities of color produced, they ultimately could not be left to stand.