Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage
“an homage to Moby-Dick and a fitting continuation/conclusion of Ahab’s story.”
News Flash! Captain Ahab didn’t die at the flukes and flippers of Moby-Dick.
It is November in the year 1853. George Harrow is a writer for the Gorgon Mirror, “the premier five-cent illustrated rag of hokum in the great city of Manhattan.” He’s at a loss for what to write next, when in walks his next story, maneuvering on a peg leg made of whale ivory.
The man is Captain Ahab, who didn’t die in his final clash with the Great White Whale and has now worked his way across the Pacific to the US where he learns survivor Ishmael has written a novel of what transpired on the ill-fated Pequod.
Since Harrow is acquainted with Ishmael, he’s interested in what Ahab has to say, though he assures him “the book was not well received by the reading public. A few handfuls of people may have seen it.”
Nevertheless, Ahab has come to Manhattan to find Ishmael and refute the book, that “the world and the book are separate voyages.” He’s also searching for his wife and child, who have left Nantucket and came to live with an aunt in Manhattan.
George agrees to help Ahab in both his searches and suggests to his editor, that “I follow this Ahab fellow around Manhattan while he searches for his wife and boy and tracks down the man who killed him with words, and report, stretching the truth and teasing when necessary. It can be a serial.”
George doesn’t know what he’s in for.
Soon, he learns there’s another Pequod survivor, and Ahab’s son is now part of the Jolly Host, one of the gangs of New York’s Five Points. With a group of characters that might’ve come from his own fertile brain, the writer finds himself on an adventure, fighting Malbaster, the magic-empowered mastermind of the Jolly Host, braving an opium den, and facing a mythological but very deadly manticore, as well as a skeletal creature Harrow’s housekeeper conquers with tea and sympathy.
The public loves it.
This is an adventure worthy of the captain. Again told by another narrator, this time hack writer, George Harrow, Ahab’s story continues. Harrow, an admitted professional confabulator (i.e., spinner of tall tales) and one who prefers not to risk his life, is a fine choice, as he is somewhat reluctantly swept up into Ahab’s plight. Between his version of the story—with examples inserted here and there—and his own opinions and wry and dry verbal ripostes, the reader will be highly entertained.
After this, Ahab will be viewed a little differently. Not entirely as a mad man, though he does have an idée fixe about that whale, but as the other surviving crewman, and George, see him.
This story also gives a good look at New York of the mid-19th century, and the devastation and danger lurking in the streets of Manhattan when the street gangs held sway, as well as of the nefarious ways in which some of its wealthiest earned their fortunes. It’s also a social commentary on the plight of the immigrants as well as those of any lower social status.
While some may question Ahab’s second fate, this one is much-better deserved than his previous demise. This fast-paced, occasionally acerbic, often bloody, but always entertaining story is an homage to Moby-Dick and a fitting continuation/conclusion of Ahab’s story. If, however, author Ford decides to pen another tale telling where the captain ends up this time, it will be gladly accepted.