1998 National Book Critics Circle Recommended Reading List
1998 Notable Book of the Year--New York Times
As he labored on his masterpiece Moby Dick in 1851, Herman Melville was a popular and charismatic young author. One year later, this Melville—successful, outgoing, knowable—had gone underground.
His letters, so witty and expansive, would for the rest of his life be brief and businesslike. He burned manuscripts and letters received, left behind no personal journals, and by 1856, ceased to write fiction altogether. Through a decade of unemployment and two more decades in the employ (at $4 a day) of the New York Custom House, Melville receded further and further from contemporary view—and from the backward glance of historians.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the mystery of Melville, arguably America’s greatest novelist, has enticed (and confounded), generations of readers and scholars. Most intriguing of all, perhaps, is Melville’s return to fiction very late in life. After nearly a thirty-five year hiatus, and with no intent to publish, he wrote the tale of the handsome sailor, Billy Bud, just before he died.
Through a combination of research, intuition, and sheer literary muscle, Larry Duberstein has given us a speculation that brings Herman Melville alive, in all his complexity and humor. THE HANDSOME SAILOR gives us a rich and utterly convincing portrait, a tour-de-force that makes the unknown Melville knowable.
LARRY DUBERSTEIN is the author of four previous novels—"each in its way a singular appreciation of the family as the central predicament in an individual’s life" (Boston Globe)—and two short story collections. He lives and works in Massachusetts.