by Kim Bartlett ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 22, 1979
Forty men on an oil rig, ""a roaring iron island known as Gulf Star 45,"" 125 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, working twelve-hour shifts for seven days. (A week on, a week off.) Men from Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, who drive six-to-ten hours to reach ""the bank"" on the Texas coast, then wait, listlessly and vacantly (""the oil field stare""), for a helicopter lift to the rig if they're lucky--on stormy days it's a retching six-to-eight hour run by crew boat, with a wobbly hoist in the ""personnel basket"" at the close. And then they may have an hour to change and eat before the first twelve-hour ""tour."" But by the second day the place doesn't smell like a ""shee-it house""; after ten hours sleep, a guy is ""ready for anything""; and Yankee Bartlett, ragged for the 99th time, may even have another go at grits. . . . Call the rig a tight little island or an infernal machine, he's mapped it out to its far recesses (the Gulf Star floats on hollow pontoons--where one legendary hand used to sneak reefers); he's traced its job hierarchy, from galley hands to roustabouts (""one of the few jobs at which someone with a strong back, a high tolerance for pain and for subordination, few skills and little education can make $250 a week plus room and board"") all the way up to ""toolpusher,"" the foreman in charge (who was once a roustabout too); and, in the course of a week's ""hitch,"" he profiles the men so well you'd spot them if you stepped on board. Freeman, for instance, one of Bartlett's two fellow night-shift roustabouts, would as like as not be doing nothing, and be not the least nonplussed; two of the book's funniest sequences involve efforts to shame or trick him into working. Pop, the third of the all-purpose team, might be fussing over the laundry, ""his way of taking a crap."" But there are no stereotypes here: when Pop has a wistful, 54th-birthday try at being crane operator, Freeman energetically comes into his own. There's also more hard, dirty, treacherous labor--and more boredom--than buffoonery. Bartlett puts across the life of the rig without straining for eloquence or spouting profundities; it's the finest kind of alert, respectful, dead-level reporting.
Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1979
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979
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