Call me Ishmael. The first line in Herman Melville's Moby Dick has become distinctly and instantly recognizable since its publication in 1851. It's a line composed of only three words, yet those three words had an immense impact on the literary world and on what comes in the novel's 700 remaining pages.

In Chapter 15 of Melville's magnum opus, readers meet an innkeeper on Nantucket named Mrs. Hussey who makes delicious chowder. She sticks around for a few chapters, causing a bit of commotion and acts as comedic relief until Ishmael and his friend Queequeg depart to continue on their voyage.

But what happened to Mrs. Hussey? Was she left to live a life dedicated to making chowder on Nantucket? Or did something greater await her and the women who came after her?

click to enlarge Reading List: Call Her Evangeline
Tara Roberts

Moscow-based writer Tara Karr Roberts' debut novel, WILD AND DISTANT SEAS, seeks to give Mrs. Hussey more than just a few chapters worth of character-building with a magical twist that spans generations and continents while also exploring the power of a name.

The idea for Wild and Distant Seas came to Roberts (who's also a regular columnist for the Inlander) while taking a class on 19th-century novels at the University of Idaho for her master's in English.

"We were assigned Moby Dick, and I had never read it before," Roberts says. "I was so pleasantly surprised by it though. I got very attached to this innkeeper and convinced my professor to let me write a short story instead of an essay for this one particular assignment."

Throughout the book, readers are taken on magical journeys through time with the female descendants of Evangeline, the name Roberts gives to Mrs. Hussey, who has been without a first name since the publication of Moby Dick.

Roberts says she couldn't have written Wild and Distant Seas without her own life experience of raising two children.

"I started writing this when my kids were in kindergarten and third grade," she says. "Now they're in sixth and ninth grade. For me, having that experience of raising children — in all of its complexity — was absolutely necessary to writing this novel. I don't think it's necessary for every writer, but for me it was really essential, and I'm really proud of having explored that complexity of being a parent because it's wonderful and it's awful and everything in between."

Tara Roberts will read from Wild and Distant Seas, with Spokane author Sharma Shields leading the audience in a Q&A session, at the Central Library on Thursday, March 21, at 6 pm.

Harold Balazs: Leaving Marks @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through June 3
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Madison Pearson

Madison Pearson is the Inlander's Listings Editor, managing the calendar of events and covering everything from libraries to mid-century modern home preservation for the Arts & Culture section of the paper. She joined the staff in 2022 after completing a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Washington...