Whether it be in writing or in any other part of life, nothing so irritates me as someone stubbornly refusing to play to their strengths. I, for instance, am not a guitar player, nor will I ever be. Oh, I have a guitar, and like to play around with it every now and again, but I will never be any good. I know this, I accept this, and I certainly won't be exposing other people to my "music." How I wish Herman Melville would have thought the same when he sat down to write Moby Dick.
I touched on this in Part One, but Melville just seems hell-bent on putting on this professor hat and lecturing to the reader on some aspect of whales or whaling. The story will be moving along at a brilliant pace when, suddenly, a chapter will end and the new one will feature the ins and outs of how whale ships exchange news. In another place, he will go on about misconceptions landsmen have about whalers, and in another place he stops everything to tell a story Ishmael heard from another whaling ship. None of these diversions, at least insofar as I can tell, have anything to do with the main thrust of the novel. When one of these chapters strike, it's like turning the page into a different book. The tone changes, the chapters are often longer, and it is dreadfully boring. Imagine if Dan Brown had stopped everything in the Da Vinci Code to ramble on about the chemistry behind the types of paint in the Mona Lisa. Not secret chemistry either, just plain old recipes for making 16th century Italian pigments.
When he's on his story, though, the author is positively masterful. After cruising a bit, Ahab relents a little in his single-mindedness and allows the men to lower away in chase of whales other than Moby Dick. The first time this happens, a whale is spotted and the men are swinging the boats out when Melville ends a chapter with this: "But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took every eye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air."