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Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush

by Geoff Dyer

Pub Date: May 20th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-91158-2
Publisher: Pantheon

Novelist and nonfiction author Dyer (Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, 2012, etc.) goes to sea for an immersive, sometimes-sobering ride aboard an American aircraft carrier.

What's a fussy eater who's averse to sharing a room, too tall for cramped corridors and who bears an abhorrence for anything to do with engines or oil aboard the USS George H.W. Bush? From the moment he arrived on the flight deck, there was never a dull moment, which also meant there was never a moment’s peace. But the crash and thunder of jets taking off competed with a stultifying muddle of military acronyms, which Dyer tried futilely to comprehend. Of course, this British writer noted for subverting genres is much more interested in the people. He describes a Whitman-esque quality of a “fulfilled and industrious America, each person indispensable to the workings of the larger enterprise,” finding himself happily “surrounded by American voices, American friendliness, American politeness.” Dyer also locates an unexpected poetics of carrier life, the terrible beauty and lyrical maneuvers of a machine of war (and the self-perpetuating requirement of oil to make the machine go). The author rejects the microminutiae beloved of many reporters, instead capturing a broader canvas with painterly precision. Though he explodes a few persistent myths, more than once, Dyer was moved by a promotion ceremony, an act of consideration, honor or devotion to duty. Ultimately, even as mere observer, he felt privileged to be there yet just as eager to resume his normal life back on “the beach.” Though respectful, generally admiring, of those in military service, Dyer remained ambivalent; he fires broadsides against numbing (if necessary) routine, the simplistic thinking of religious conservatism prevalent on board and the inherent contradictions of having a military presence off the coasts of other lands in a way that would never be countenanced near American shores.

As usual for Dyer, eccentrically intriguing, occasionally dipping into boyish wonder and spasms of sentiment.