In Ahab's Wife, or, The Star-Gazer, author Sena Jester Naslund has taken the brief description of Captain Ahab's wife found in Herman Melville's Moby Dick and developed her into Una, a compassionate heroine driven by the pursuit of social justice rather than driven by the obsession and vengeance of her husband. The story details Una's life as she undertakes adventures and struggles with husbands who are driven mad by unconquerable force of mother nature.
Based on the background Naslund develops for Una, Una grew up in Kentucky under an extremely zealous protestant father. When she and her father were at odds with each other, Una's mother, fearing the threat of Una's violent father, sends Una away to be raised by her more gentle aunt and uncle, lighthouse keepers on Nantucket Island.
However, at the age of 16, two sailors named Giles and Kit arrive on the island to fix the lighthouse and she becomes enamored of them. When they are set to leave the island, Una disguises herself as a boy named Ulysses and gets herself hired as a cabin boy on their ship. Una works on the ship for a full month before Giles and Kit realize who she really is. Next, sadly, their ship is destroyed by a whale. Una, Giles, and Kit are among the crew who make it in time to the rescue boat. However, the group has to resort to cannibalism to survive, leaving Kit, Una, and Giles the three remaining survivors. Giles soon dies when he falls overboard, and Kit falls into madness. Kit asks Una to marry him, and she accepts, despite his state of madness.
Captain Ahab marries the couple, but upon returning to Nantucket, Kit is arrested for his insanity but escapes to Canada. When Captain Ahab convinces Una her husband will not be returning, Una marries Ahab instead. After the marriage, Ahab goes out to sea, and Una returns to her mother's home in Kentucky to give birth to her son. When Ahab finally returns, he has lost his leg to the whale Moby Dick and has become obsessed with revenge. Ahab soon leaves again in pursuit of Moby Dick.
The story ends with Una meeting Ishmael, the soul survivor of the recent journey in pursuit of Moby Dick. Una marries a third time and is happy to finally find peace in her life.