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Ahab's Wife

Ahab's Wife

Written by Sena Jeter Naslund

Narrated by Maryann Plunkett


Ahab's Wife

Written by Sena Jeter Naslund

Narrated by Maryann Plunkett

ratings:
4/5 (64 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Released:
Oct 1, 1999
ISBN:
9780743540933
Format:
Audiobook

Description

This is destined to be remembered as one of the most-recognized first sentences in literature -- along with "Call me Ishmael." And Una Spenser, the transcendent hero at the center of Ahab's Wife may well become every bit as memorable as Ahab.

Inspired by a brief passage, in Moby, Dick, Sena Jeter Naslund has created an entirely new universe -- an epic-scale, enthralling and compelling saga, spanning a full, rich, eventful, and dramatic life. In the "soprano voice" whose absence critics lamented in Moby Dick -- the strong intelligent voice of a woman whose life is dominated by the sea -- Naslund tells many stories.

She narrates a family drama, as the child Una is sent away to live in a lighthouse to escape the blows of her religion-mad farther. She spins a romantic adventure, as Una finds early passion with a sailor, and disguised as a cabin boy, runs away to sea. She paints a portrait of a real, loving marriage, as through Una's eyes we see Ahab before the White Whale takes his leg and sends him into madness. Finally, she gives us a new perspective on the American experience, as the widowed Una makes a new life for herself in the company of Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglass, Emersion and others.

Sena Jeter Naslund has thoroughly imbibed the spirit of Herman Melville, and that spirit permeates every scene of her novel. But great as her debt to Melville may be, Ahab's Wife stands alone, intact and vital. Inspired by a masterpiece, it is a masterwork in its own right.
Released:
Oct 1, 1999
ISBN:
9780743540933
Format:
Audiobook

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3.9
64 ratings / 72 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    Ahab's Wife is a novel that uses a brief mention of Moby-Dick's Captain Ahab's wife back at home in Nantucket, and from this builds a slow burn of a back story around her. I strongly feel this is better appreciated if one has already read Moby-Dick, as there are other characters, not just Captain Ahab, here. The author of Ahab's Wife does include what is probably her own agenda -- to provide a feminist counterpoint -- and in this novel, she also includes real-life characters at the time of Moby-Dick which gives parts of this novel a historical fiction flavor. Ahab's wife gets to meet Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example. In spite of all this, I did very much enjoy reading Ahab's Wife.
  • (4/5)
    My mom doesn't buy many books, preferring to take advantage of public, and other people's, libraries. But Ahab's Wife she fell in love with and wanted to take her time enjoying (it being a rather hefty tome), so purchased a copy when it was still only available in hardcover. Several years later, one of my supervisors was talking to me about a book she was enjoying as was surprised when I was able to guess the title--Ahab's Wife. She offered her copy to me after she was finished, and I gladly accepted. My mom and I haven't read many of the same books, so it's kinda cool to be able to talk to her about this one.Based on only a few lines found in Moby Dick, Ahab's Wife is the story of Una, who at one time was married to the titular and infamous captain. Though, as she states at the very beginning, "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." Her story is not an easy one. From her Kentucky home, to an island lighthouse, to life at sea, and ultimately to Nantucket and 'Sconset, she take the reader with her on her journey through life--both physical and spiritual. Not in an entirely linear fashion, but in such a way that a person would looking back on her life, following where her mind leads her.While not critical to the enjoyment of the book, having at least a basic notion of Moby Dick's plot gives more depth and understanding to Ahab's Wife. (I have only read a massively abridged version of Moby Dick, but it was a favorite of mine when I was younger. I am now inspired to read the classic in its entirety.) Una experiences great tragedy and great joy in the course of her story. It is at times quite unbelievable, but it is fiction--So, despite the detailed an historically accurate atmosphere created, flights of fancy are allowed.My only major complaint is the shifts in perspective, and the seeming inconsistencies in Una's voice. The point of view is primarily her own, but inexplicably jumps to Kit, Ahab, and even Starbuck. The first time it happened was particularly jarring because it was so unexpected (not quite half-way through the book). It was less so the following times, but it just didn't work that well. Including letters I understand and approve, but completely switching narrators was a little much and unpredictable. And it only served to emphasize the inconsistencies of Una's point of view--occasionally she would address the reader directly as a reader, other times it seemed that she was simply telling her story, and sometime it came across as something else entirely.Overall, I did enjoy Ahab's Wife. The writing was lyrical and felt very authentic stylistically to the time-period portrayed. Despite inconsistencies and a fair bit of what seemed to be extraneous material, the book was satisfying. (I particularly enjoyed and appreciated who her third husband turned out to be. And Ahab's characterization was marvelous.) I did have to take breaks from it--it is not a book to be rushed through. It does have a few flaws and quirks (but really, what book doesn't?), nevertheless I am glad that I read it.Experiments in Reading
  • (4/5)
    a beautifully written novel in a rich narrative. I enjoyed so much learning about whalers, their families, and the early days of Nantucket.
  • (5/5)
    Incredibly rich novel
  • (4/5)
    There is little to nothing that I could add to synopsis given by the other reviewers here, so I won't attempt to. The first half of Ahab's Wife is wonderful - full of activity and differing characters. The second half - not so much. The second half is very much a young woman figuring herself and her world out. Introspective. I almost stopped reading, I detest characters who never seem to have problems adjusting to new situations, and Una just goes with the flow, accepting whatever - whenever. I kept reading because (1) not finishing a book is a mortal sin in my life, and (2) I kept hoping the thrill of the first half of the book would re-emerge. Which it didn't.
  • (4/5)
    An unexpected pleasant surprise! The author has taken a few lines from Moby Dick mentioning Captain Ahab's wife, and she has constructed a whole persona and life for the woman. The narration takes the form of Una's remembrances and she plans to call it "The Stargazer". It begins in Kentucky, then she is taken to an aunt and uncle and cousin on an Island near Massachusetts, where her uncle is the lighthouse keeper. She grows up in the circle of a loving, close-knit family, companion to Cousin Frannie. We follow Una on her adventure, disguised as a boy, running off to sea and serving as cabin boy and assistant to the cook on the "Sussex", a whaler. The ship is rammed by a whale and survivors drift in one of the small whale boats and are plucked from the sea by another ship. The story follows Una's life, meeting Captain Ahab for the first time, disastrous 1st marriage to a sailor, Kit Sparrow, then marriage to Captain Ahab. After his death on the "Pequod", she makes a life for herself, with loving friends.This was a beautiful story, with opulent language all through. I was drawn into the story immediately; I was immersed in the sights and sounds of that time and place. I thought the cabin boy incident a little far-fetched, but it gave the author an opportunity to describe life aboard a whaler. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." Thus opens this sweeping novel of the infamous Captain Ahab's wife, Una. Starting in a Kentucky cabin in deepest winter and ending on the windswept eastern edge of Nantucket, the novel takes us through the middle part of the 19th century, using the touchstone of the story of Captain Ahab and his nemesis, Moby Dick, to explore themes of family, abolition, faith and science, suffrage and women's right to self-determination, and revenge. I thoroughly enjoyed Una's story and loved the brief visits by famous souls such as Frederick Douglass and Margaret Fuller, along with a fascinating cast of truly fictional characters. Sena Jeter Naslund wanders just a wee bit too far down the path of philosophical musings at times but otherwise this is a satisfying ambitious read.
  • (5/5)
    Fantastic book!
  • (5/5)
    Though it was a national bestseller, I had never heard of this book or its author before coming across it at yet another of my used book sales. It won many awards so I threw it in my $5-a-brown-bag. I usually assume awards are a clear sign of good literature and this premise yet again did not fail me. Rather lengthy and at times verbose, I began reading Naslund's novel wondering if I would be able to finish. But, I quickly became engrossed and deeply committed to her main character, Una. She is married to Captain Ahab during his whaling escapades in Moby Dick, but you need not have read that tomb to appreciate this one. This story carries Una through her full and charming life, both at sea and comfortably settled on shore.Allow Una the time to you her story.
  • (4/5)
    For some reason, Moby-Dick has gotten a reputation as a boring slog of a book. That's what I had in my head before I read it last year, anyways, and was delighted to be proven wrong. It's actually both lively and informative, full of adventure and interesting facts about whaling in the olden days of yore. And while our narrator, Ishmael, is a bit of a cipher, Captain Ahab is one of the most memorable characters in literature, with his ivory false leg and burning wrath for the white whale. And in a throwaway line or two, it's mentioned that he has a wife at home.In Ahab's Wife, author Sena Jeter Naslund takes that barely-mentioned, never seen character and gives us her whole life. A novel I read in high school, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, had the same kind of basis (took a minor biblical character and told her life story), and I loved that book wholeheartedly. Which probably set my expectations a little too high, which isn't really fair, but between that and a killer first line, "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last", I was really excited to read this book.As you can probably surmise from the above, I didn't like it quite as much as I was hoping. Una Spenser is meant to be a one-of-a-kind, irrepressible heroine, but I found her maybe a little too special. She's not just lovely, smart, brave, resilient, passionate, and strong, she's also an object of desire for virtually every man she meets, treated with lavish kindness by almost every person of either gender that she comes across, and unfailingly tolerant and liberal in her attitudes. Which is just not very realistic, and leaves her ringing false as a character. While she certainly has to overcome obstacles (the aftermath of a horrific shipwreck, her treatment at the hands of her first husband, the loss of her first child, the death of her second husband), her only real "flaw" seems to be that she's too impulsive and headstrong, too daring. Which, of course, is presented as not much of a flaw at all.I wish that Una was a better-drawn and more well-rounded character, because this book could have been quite lovely. Naslund's prose is definitely on the flowery side (if this turns you off, avoid this book at all costs because you will hate it), but I can get down with that if the story is compelling. The first half of the book had much more dramatic tension and excitement than the second half, which dragged in the long sections describing Una standing in the wind and gazing at the stars and/or sea, philosophizing about the world and her place in it. It's quite a lengthy novel at over 650 pages, and editing down some of the aforementioned mind-wandering-while-hair-blows-in-the-wind passages might make Una (and her story as a whole) a little more dynamic and interesting. That being said, I did enjoy reading it and thought it was a pretty good book. Just not quite as good as I wanted it to be.
  • (2/5)
    I've never gotten so far along in a book, and bailed.Una, the main character, is so full of herself that I couldn't bring myself to finish this book. I realized about 1/3 of the way into the book that I didn't like Una. I was at least 3/4 of the way through when it dawned on me that I really didn't care what happened to perfect Una and her perfect son, Liberty. I can't help but think that the character is somehow a reflection of the author, and I will avoid her books in the future.
  • (3/5)
    Ahab's Wife leads off with compelling first chapters and a strong forward momentum.Early plot and characters are mesmerizing though abstract thinking and dialogue often seembeyond the reach of kids and at times veer into preciousness.Unfortunately, with the improbable ease of a young girl being accepted as a cabin boy on a whaler,the story degenerates into page turning to get to the end. I never did find out why Giles and Kip skipped out on Una...but then I didn't care about the characters after the early chapters.It was great to have other perspectives on the brutality of whale killing.Black, then White, cannibalism was a gratuitous plot and character "development," with Una seeming to pride herself on her unsavory disclosures.Sure wish she had not included Ishmael.
  • (4/5)
    Incredibly rich novel
  • (5/5)
    "Ahab's Wife" has been described by some reviewers as a footnote to "Moby Dick." If so, at 666 pages it probably qualifies as the longest footnote on record!In Melville's classic the captain's wife is briefly mentioned twice. In Naslund's novel, which uses as its format the autobiography of its narrator, Una Spenser, readers are given a fine portrait of Captain Ahab as his life intersects with hers.Fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief. Readers who choose to accept this premise will follow Una through the experiences that led her to become the one woman Ahab marries, although he is (as we learn in the book's opening sentence) "... neither my first husband nor my last.""In Search of Moby Dick" by Tim Severin is a lively account of its author's experiences proving the validity of Melville's plot. "The Classics Reclassified," by Richard Armour is a clever spoof of seven famous books, including "Moby Dick."
  • (4/5)
    First let me say, I enjoyed reading [Ahab's Wife] and looked forward to picking it up again everytime. It's an entertaining story of a 19th century woman who lived a BIG, adventersome life. It caused me to read [Moby Dick] and I'm both glad I read that classic for itself as well as for the enjoyable connections to this book.But there were many things that bothered me about the book too. For example, as a 16-year-old girl, Una is allowed to travel alone to New Bedford to await her mother's arrival. I can't imagine there was a "proper" family in America that would have allowed that expecially when there were so many alternatives. That's just one example of the details that bothered me. I was also bothered by the fact that the author felt compelled to drag every prominent person who ever visited Nantucket in the 19th century into the story. Little was added and it felt cheesy to me. I also felt the book ended about 100 pages before the end but she felt it necessary to wrap up the story of each of the minor characters in the book. I think it would have been stronger without that.But back to my first point -- in spite of the things that bothered me I really did enjoy the book. The descriptive language is often lovely and, if you can forget some of the more difficult to believe things, it's a whale of a good story.
  • (3/5)
    !!WARNING!! !!SPOILERS!! I began this book really liking it, but somewhere in the middle I found myself thinking the author was just trying way too hard. While the writing was excellent, I felt the main characters story was TOO harrowing, and in the end, it didn't really end up being THAT big a deal. When I finally got to Una marrying Ahab and I thought back, it was almost as if she used the Essex's shipwreck and Una, Kit, and Giles' time in the boat as a way to just get rid of Kit and Giles. I found it disappointing because earlier in the book it seemed like they had such a profound impact only to have them seem not to be important. It was as if she forgot about everything and would just slightly muse about it later in life. But maybe it just seemed that way because what happened was enough for Giles to kill himself and Kit to go completely insane, but Una just felt kinda sorry about it. I also felt like the last 100 of the book didn't really need to be there. She spent all the time waiting for Ahab and when it is finally determined that he is definitely dead it was as if the author didn't know where to go in order to read her final ending point of Una meeting Ishmael, so she had her jump from place to place but not really doing anything but talking people who ended up being important historical figures. . .Even after all of that, Ahab's Wife was still a very beautifully written novel and one I may read again and will probably rate higher in the future.
  • (5/5)
    I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I have ever read. I have not been able to start reading another book since finishing Ahab's Wife, because of it's profound effect on me. This epic novel was a gift to me on my second visit to Nantucket. Knowing the places the author describes so well made the experience of reading richer on a sensory level than if I had never been to Nantucket before. Yet, I know that visiting the island need not be a prerequisite for appreciating this book. I found Ahab's Wife at times heart-warming, then heart-wrenching, and even heart-breaking with our heroine, Una becoming the champion of my heart. I was delighted at many points throughout the book to look ahead and see that the book's end was nowhere in sight. What a pleasure to find an author with the patience to weave a complex and stunning tale that allows us to ponder the issues that motivate us to live and die! SImply wonderful.
  • (4/5)
    This is basically Moby Dick fan fiction, with much of fan fiction's highest pleasures and one of it's most common problems. There are only a few paragraphs in Melville's Moby Dick mentioning Captain Ahab's unnamed young wife, a "sweet, resigned girl" he married at fifty, spent only one night in bed with, and by whom he had a son. Naslund takes that nail paring worth of information and from it fashions a flesh and blood woman, Una Spenser of Kentucky. And therein lies my major issue: Una. Some might feel Una has too modern a sensibility, about religion, about whaling. But I thought it was appropriate (and Una's struggle with belief spoke to me). Melville himself is often irreverent about religion. (See, for instance, Ismael's thoughts and remarks about Queequeg) and rather sarcastic and ironic in tone about whaling, even suggesting at one point it's akin to cannibalism. My problem with Una is that she's "Mary Sue," a term coined regarding fan fiction to refer to an original character who is an idealized projection of the author, usually improbably adored by all and with superpowers. I'm afraid Una comes far too close to that for comfort. So many characters fall for her, and famous historical figures are associated with her. Una is a bosom friend of Margaret Fuller. Nathaniel Hawthorne considers Una remarkable among women after talking with her for a few minutes. Her cousin works for Frederick Douglas and Una recognizes Henry James' genius after talking with him briefly as a child. Another problem with Una is how she and Ahab see each other as another self. It doesn't fit though. Una is too sane. Even when the author has her break a terrible taboo, she has Una do it in a way that distances her from the crime, and I never really felt what should have been a traumatic incident disturbed or damaged her in a way I found credible. Una's neither a mirror to Ahab in his monomania nor does she strike me as a "sweet, resigned girl" as Ahab's wife is described by Peleg in Moby Dick. Yet, I did love a lot about this book. I read Moby Dick just before I read Ahab's Wife, and if you can make yourself read what is admittedly at times a tedious (but rich) book first, I think you'd find it rewarding to do so before reading this one. The books share common characters such as Ahab, Starbuck, Flask, Pip, Daggoo, Tashtego, Captains Peleg and Bildad, Mrs Hussey, Ismael; places like The Spouter-Inn and Try Pots Tavern, phrases, images and parallel incidents like the one with the lightning rod, and in the last third of the book the last voyage of the Pequod is told through letters and news from the returning ships she encountered. Even though I think it can stand alone, I think you'll enjoy this book more if you can recognize the wealth of allusions. Like Moby Dick or, the Whale there's an alternate title, The Stargazer, there's a similar number of chapters in similar typeset (157 to Moby Dick's 135) This book is also first person, from Una's point of view, but with some chapters from other points of views like Ahab's, and, like Moby Dick, even snatches in stage play format, giving a flavor of the eccentric source. However, I found Ahab's Wife more enjoyable than Moby Dick and better crafted in a structural sense. Yes, I know that's blasphemous, and I'm not arguing this book is a profound deathless classic like Moby Dick, which was so very original. But at least there aren't endless digressions and infodump with a host of chapters devoted to the sperm whale's tail, skull, skin, penis, etc. Instead we have a smart, courageous heroine and more action and adventure than one might expect.And I quite like Naslund's lyrical prose style. Not purple I think--not when put next to Melville's prose which I thought it complimented. I'd certainly be interested in reading more of Naslund after this, and am curious if her style will change to match different material. For me this works as a very enjoyable, erudite work of historical and literary fiction and coming of age story, rich in its play of ideas, and by the end of Ahab's Wife I better understood and appreciated Moby Dick because of reading it.
  • (5/5)
    Complex, independent female character, beautiful descriptive, lyrical writing
  • (5/5)
    Though it was a national bestseller, I had never heard of this book or its author before coming across it at yet another of my used book sales. It won many awards so I threw it in my $5-a-brown-bag. I usually assume awards are a clear sign of good literature and this premise yet again did not fail me. Rather lengthy and at times verbose, I began reading Naslund's novel wondering if I would be able to finish. But, I quickly became engrossed and deeply committed to her main character, Una. She is married to Captain Ahab during his whaling escapades in Moby Dick, but you need not have read that tomb to appreciate this one. This story carries Una through her full and charming life, both at sea and comfortably settled on shore.Allow Una the time to you her story.
  • (2/5)
    This book was so bad I couldn't finish it. It was so full of illogic, and written in such overwrought prose, that I gave up--something I rarely do. I gave it a star and a half because it wasn't completely idiotic or trashy, but I was unable to suspend my disbelief.
  • (4/5)
    Asked during the first 400 pages of this book how I liked it, I would have responded that it was one of the best I had read in years. Sadly, the work did not end as strongly as it began and, as the author spun out the conclusion for rather too long a time, I found myself growing increasingly critical. On the positive side, Naslund's writing is almost hypnotic in its ability to conjure a place, a mood, an environment. As one reads about the heroine's early years of life on a lighthouse island, one imagines it to be the most desirable of places to live. The author also does a good job of fleshing out an enigmatic literary figure--Ahab--and providing readers who also enjoyed Melville's "Moby Dick" with an interesting expansion of the character's life. On the negative side, the situations become increasingly "pat" as the work wears on and the characters become less, rather than more, believable. Naslund also falls into the trap of populating her story with an unlikely number of well-known historical figures, all of whom seem, through equally unlikely chance, to come into contact with her main character. Still, I would recommend this one, especially for those who have read and enjoyed "Moby Dick."
  • (3/5)
    Was it worth slogging through 666 pages (is the White Whale the Beast?) of "Una's" adventures to read this:"Alone on my platform, I knew myself to be in motion, though I stood still. My motion was rooted in the earth and its journey. Not just my house, but the world itself was my ship traveling airy waters which rarefied beyond air into sheer blackness. And beyond and all about me in deep black nothingness were sources of light, they, too, moving. What a rushing, what a rushing we all made.....And none left behind, nor could they be. We are embraced even before we can embrace."?I don't know....The book features everything from cannibalism to gay marriage to telescopically discovered comets to slavery and women's rights. Naslund writes thoughtfully and deeply; but I wonder if she left out ANY of her research in telling Una's story!
  • (1/5)
    as an European who is not as familiar with the whole Moby Dick-story and whose English is ok, but still my second language it is hard to read and I had to give up. Maybe I will start with MD before I pick up this again.
  • (3/5)
    An odd book, one of that sub-genre of fiction that borrows characters from another work of fiction, in this case Melville's Moby Dick. The best recent example I have read of this sub-genre is "March" by Geraldine Brooks - an excellent book that borrows characters from "Little Women". "Ahab's Wife" centers around the women who was barely mentioned in "Moby Dick", the wife of Ahab.The writing is excellent, the author a real craft person, but the big is big and loose and self-indulgent. Melville's book is also big and somewhat self-indulgent, but it had the focus of a harponeer on it's destination. At times I had to wonder where "Ahab's Wife" was headed - it wandered all over the literary landscape. But still, it is a good read and worth the time.
  • (5/5)
    One of my favourite kinds of novel is the re-telling of an old story from a new perspective, and this is a brilliant example. Sena Jeter Naslund tells the unlikely adventures of Ahab's Wife, the woman who is referred to in Moby Dick only as a 'sweet, resigned girl' and otherwise barely mentioned. Una tumbles from one precarious situation to another - escaping a Christian fundamentalist father to live on a lighthouse, then running away to join a ship as cabin boy, she gets through shipwreck, atrocities, two marriages (Ahab is her second husband) and a good deal more before the book is done. What I think I liked the most about her is that, despite her spirit and indepdendence and fierceness and courage and determination, she really is 'resigned'. Not, as you imagine from Moby Dick, in the sense that she sits at home and embroiders while awaiting her husband's return. More in the sense that she does not dwell unnecessarily on adversity. She accepts it, she grieves where she must, and then she goes on living.
  • (5/5)
    Finally, Ahab's back story gets told. As incredible as 'Moby Dick' is, Ahab has remained a two-dimensional enigma for 160 years. Sena Naslund sets out to bring to life Ahab's wife, Una, whom Melville alluded to in his classic novel, and in doing so, gives us a more human, more complete Ahab. Though some of the metaphors are a bit heavy handed (e.g. the lighthouse tower), the quality and tone of her prose, the thoroughly developed historic setting, and the compelling characters she creates make this a must read for anyone who loves Melville's work. "Ahab's Wife" would stand alone as a fine novel even for those who are unfamiliar with "Moby Dick".Knowing Ahab's fate only adds to the compelling story of Una's life. However, once Una becomes aware of Ahab's fate, Naslund seems to take way to long to close out the various threads of the story. A minor complaint, really, fo rwhat is a wonderful work.Os.
  • (5/5)
    This is one of the best books I have ever read
  • (4/5)
    Follows the life of Una as she travels from the countryside of Kentucky to the coast, through the ocean as a cabin boy, a cannibal, and as Ahab's wife. She meets the major figures of that time period, like Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglas. It's interesting and entertaining, if her views are a little anachronistically progressive for that time. The connection with Ahab is not the point, though it does make it interesting. The fact that she ends up with Ishmael is a little too pat, but it's more about the fact that she is independent and has done what she wants her entire life in a time when men dominated women.
  • (4/5)
    I like the author's name, Sena Jeter Naslund. I read this one too long ago to give it an informed review. It's on my shelf, I remember enjoying the book, and if you enjoy a book that's almost 700 pages long, then there must be something to recommend it. I don't understand why people post things here and give them a 1 or 2-star review. If you feel that way about it, throw the book away and move on. I don't have room for 1-star books on my shelf, and I certainly wouldn't bother to post one here--unless I had a good reason, which none of this bad reviews ever seem to discuss.