Forty men on an oil rig, ""a roaring iron island known as Gulf Star 45,"" 125 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, working...



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: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979