Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush
Pantheon / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
Publication Date: 05-20-2014
202 Pages; $24.95
Date Reviewed: 06-14-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014
It's a peculiar idea. Geoff Dyer, a smart, sly British writer, is asked if there is anywhere he'd like to go for a couple of weeks, with the idea he'd write a smallish book about his experiences. Dyer chooses an American aircraft carrier, and some months on, is told that he's got his wish. For two weeks, he's to be the Writer in Residence aboard the USS George H. W. Bush, and now, all in a trice it seems, we're lucky enough to have 'Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush' to hand for a bit of recreational reading. It's a vacation well worth taking, especially with Dyer as your guide.
'Another Great Day at Sea' is a straightforward gig, on the boat and in the book. We meet Dyer as he's coming in to the base near the ship. In no time, and very few pages, he's aboard. From the first paragraph, Dyer's lively prose and genial voice are strikingly entertaining. He portrays himself as a bit fussy, insisting on a cabin by himself, a luxury unheard of on the carrier — but he manages to get it. For all his joviality, Dyer has a deep streak of honesty in him. As we read his self-deprecating prose, we feel we're getting raw reportage, the real deal, even as Dyer waxes effectively poetic. His descriptions of the men wearing futuristic "cranials" and bearing heavy chains as if from some "medieval siege engine" are both breathtaking and effective. He's quite funny much of the time. You'll laugh a lot as you read the book, mostly at his clever turns of phrase; never at the crew.
The construction of the book is quite on the up-and-up. As readers, we follow Dyer as he is taken from one part of the ship to another. It's a huge ship, with a crew of 5,000. As Dyer points out, this is the size of a small town and they have someone aboard the ship to manage pretty much anything you might find in a small town. You'll meet a fascinating cross section of American servicemen and women, character crafted with grit and truth. There are many crewmembers you'll be hard-pressed to forget, and scenes of extraordinary if industrial grandeur.
As you read 'Another Great Day At Sea,' don't expect an exposé of the military. Dyer found himself aboard a well-run craft with a generally happy crew. The tight quarters don't allow for many shenanigans, even though the brig (which he visits) does get some use, usually for those who are tardy to work. In fact, the vibe of much of the book is that of a holiday traveler, who just happens to be aboard the carrier. It's fun, charming and yet rings true as well.
As he stays long on the ship, Dyer begins to get a bit more manic, cadging food from the Captain's cook, and getting his teeth done by the on-board dentist. By the end, he's transformed in a manner he does not and the reader will not expect. But early on in 'Another Great day at Sea,' you learn to abandon expectations. Dyer delivers far more than you can hope for in his slim little book. He crafts a world within the world that makes the whole shebang seem like a better, safer place to sleep.