Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Aboard a Steel Ship During World War II with C. S. Forester

"A colossal geyser of black mud followed along with the terrific roar of the explosion.  Mud and water rained down on the Apache, drenching everyone on deck, while the little ship leaped frantically in the waves."  Gold From Crete, by C. S. Forester

An excellent collection of sea stories by Gold From Crete by C.S. Forester

A Reading Recommendation: Sea Story

by Malcolm Torres

When you search around for sea stories naturally the Horatio Hornblower collection by C. S. Forester comes up at the top of many lists.  But, I'm not much of a fan of Hornblower and the old tyme wooden-ship sea stories, so naturally when I saw C. S. Forester's collection of WWII stories, Gold From Crete, I snatched it up and read it cover to cover.

What I wonder is:  How did Forester write these stories?  While reading them I simply took it for granted that the author was a Royal Navy officer, but I was quite surprised to find that he did not serve in the Navy at all.  He did server in the British Infantry during WWI, but that does not explain how he wrote such wonderful sea stories.  Forester left England prior to the start of WWII, and lived in California writing sea stories and movie scripts for most of his life.

This collection, Gold From Crete, is written with great authenticity, containing so many small details that one experiences while aboard a ship at sea.  The story puts you aboard the HMS Apache during operations in the Mediterranean during WWII.  There's plenty of action and humor, character development and insights into life aboard a ship during wartime.

World War II Royal Navy Sea Stories

Five of the stories are about the brave crew aboard the HMS Apache, as they barely survive being bombed as they recover the national treasure of gold at the Greek port of Crete.  In one funny, yet hair-raising story, the Apache's captain dons a diving suit to defuse an accidentally dropped depth charge in port at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  And of course, as any good WWII sea story should, this volume includes an intense hunt for a German submarine, this time with a new high tech sonar system.

There are several stories in this collection that do not take place aboard ships at sea, and we'll forgive Forester for straying from his nautical plots and themes, but these others stories are well worth a read.  They take us into tank battles on the sands of North Africa, a spy story in New York City and a what-if story that ponders what may have happened if Hitler had invaded England.

For those who enjoy good sea stories, especially those aboard a small ship during WWII, Gold From Crete by C. S. Forester is well worth a read.

If you enjoy a good Sea Story,
these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:
Amazon KindleApple iBooksBarnes & Noble NookSmashwords and Kobo.

Free Sea Stories by Malcolm Torres, Disaster at Sea, Crime Thriller

Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Alcoholic Sailor With Serious Psychiatric Problems

The sailor with the crack in his skull is, you guessed it, McGlue, our murder-suspect and main character.

McGlue is a sea story about an alcoholic sailor
McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (Fence Books)

I spend way too much time in bookstores.  What I do while browsing the displays and stacks is I read the first few pages of any book that looks like it has anything to do with ships and sailors.  If there's a picture of the ocean or waves or a drawing of a ship or a boat on the cover, I read the first few pages.  If the word maritime, sea, navy, sailor, or any reference to anything even vaguely nautical appears on the cover, I crack that book open and lean on the shelf to read a few pages.  While reading, I run through a checklist in the back of my mind.  On that list there are plot elements, themes and character qualities that, over the years, have been ingrained into my gray matter.  On my list are the critical elements that go into a great sea story.

I'm happy to report that McGlue, the slim novella by Ottessa Moshfegh, placed a messy red check mark, a bit like blood splatter, right next to five elements required for a great sea story.  The amazing thing is, I checked these elements off my list while reading the first page:

  - Alcohol-fueled adventure in a foreign port (check)
  - Sexual misconduct (check)
  - Crime (Triple-Check for MURDER!)
  - A sailor shoving off from the pier and heading out to sea with a wicked hangover (check)
  - Main character has a cracked skull and he's still alive (Check! + new item added to my list)

The sailor with the crack in his skull is, you guessed it, McGlue our murder-suspect, main character.

Ships Sailors and Sea Stories

As any reader of this blog knows, I don't go for the types of sea stories that glorify weapons, officers, Naval tradition or politics.  Now, I can go for a bit of each of those, but if these things are wrapped tight around the main plot, I'm out.  This book, has none of that.  Set in the mid 1800s in ports across the Pacific, South America and New England (NY to Boston), the author uses this blurry sort of first person monologue to tell the story.

The plot progresses forward with McGlue tied to a bunk in a locked compartment below decks.  He's being taken back to New England to stand trail for murdering his friend Johnson.  All the while McGlue is flashing back telling the story of his childhood, filled with dreadful mommy-issues.  McGlue and Johnson become best of friends.  They are hobos together, drinking and fighting their way from Boston to New York.  An excellent foundation for a sea-faring bro-mance, by the way.  McGlue and Johnson sign on as deckhands aboard a ship somewhere, maybe it was NY, maybe Baltimore -- it's hard to tell because there's excessive amounts of alcohol involved.  And they aren't drinking beer.  They are not beer-aholics.  No, they are drinking liquor, cheap liquor and lots of it.  All along, Johnson has issues with his father and McGlue with his mother, which fuels the psychiatric subplot.  Periodically we flash to the present where McGlue is bound in the compartment aboard ship.  He's going through some of the most vivid and gut wrenching alcohol detox symptoms I've ever read about.

The sad thing is stories like this are almost never written.  That's why I was happy to find this slim novella about an alcoholic sailor / murder suspect on the shelf at Powell's City of Books here in my home town of Portland, Oregon.

The author, Ottessa Moshfegh, has written for such prestigious publications as The Paris Review and the New Yorker.  Moshfegh creates language and art together in this story.  She leaves me scratching my head (not that there's a crack in my skull) wondering how the hell she wrote this book.  It's authentic, I can tell you.  I've spent years aboard ships, gotten absolutely shitfaced in foreign ports, had friendships that went horribly wrong.  How can Ottessa Moshfegh know about all this.  Has she been in the Merchant Marine, the Navy?  Does she have a hardcore alcoholic sailor in her life?  It makes me wonder?  Perhaps, she is simply a great writer combining a bit of research with the voice of her muse.  Either way, I like Ms. Moshfegh.  I will be on the lookout for her books, especially if she stumbles into writing another sea story.

McGlue, by Ottessa Moshfegh, (118 pages) is published by Fence Books and received the Believer Book Award.

If you enjoy a good Sea Story, 
these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:

US Navy Sea Story, United States Coast Guard Sea Story, Disaster at Sea, Crime Thriller
Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical novels.