Wild and Distant Seas by Tara Karr Roberts

Ishmael, he of Moby Dick notability, is the impetus for this far-ranging and entertaining novel of three women who seek his whereabouts and answers to their questions about his abandonment of them. Well-written and continuously engaging.

Wild and Distant Seas by Tara Karr Roberts
W. W. Norton & Co.
Hardcover | $27.99
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Many of us who have not read Moby Dick but have still gathered a few facts from the many discussions, articles and essays written about that famous work will recognize some of the characters, situations and locations in this book. Queequeg, the Pequod, Nantucket and of course, Ishmael. The entire notion of whaling and the industry and community that arose around that now-disgraced enterprise is familiar, if only from having heard so much about it in various media. Here’s a little more of the story of the people behind the story, those left behind.


A young man approaches a whaler’s widow who now runs a chowder shop and inn seeking accommodation until his ship sails. He is accompanied by an enigmatic tattooed associate named Queequeg. They lodge and eat with the widow and subsequently ship out, the young man having left behind a legacy in the form of a girl child. He is Ishmael, a charming and intelligent individual who leaves a lasting mark on the mind of the harried widow who loved him. She wonders for years about his whereabouts but never hears another word. The daughter is infected with the same questing dilemma: where did he go? Where is he now? Can I find him? This obsession is passed in turn to her daughter who travels widely and asks everywhere for her grandfather without knowing precisely what she will do if and when she finds him.


The author has presented us with a character who occupies only a few pages at the beginning of the book but who nevertheless inhabits our consciousness as much as that of his descendants who tirelessly seek his whereabouts. These three women are driven, haunted, scarred by his abandonment and desperately hope to find closure.


I hope the reader will forgive me for saying that this book is eminently more accessible than the tome that inspired it. It is rich with the strength and determination of women, even those who have succumbed to the influence of a man, though he be a remarkable one. It is also a mystery as it runs down vague hints and follows the repeated disappointments that fail to deter the searchers from their task. Clue after clue presents itself, always disappointing but not quenching the thirst for truth and resolution. It is also cleverly and skillfully written and maintains the reader’s interest with apparent ease, never forced or overt in its magical charm to engage. It is without a doubt a fine work that is worthy of anyone’s attention and commitment.