A riveting tale of a World War II Navy man’s survival at sea, based on the true account of the USS Indianapolis.
Radioman 3rd Class Art O’Hara, a brash radioman who’s always toting a cigarette on his lip, wakes in a seedy San Francisco motel room. Realizing he’s AWOL, he makes a mad dash to catch his ship just before it heads to sea. Readers ride pillion on this rapid-fire opening to a novel that gains momentum with every page as O’Hara and his fellow sailors embark for the Marianas aboard the USS Atwood. At the outset, life aboard ship doesn’t seem too onerous: O’Hara finds opportunities to shirk work, badger underlings, ponder the mysterious crate in the cargo hold and watch newbies vomit over the railing. Within days of delivering its cargo, the Atwood leaves for the Leyte Gulf. It never reaches its destination. Just after midnight, two torpedoes strike, swiftly sinking the Atwood as men grab life jackets and jump ship. Ocean currents and confusion about whether the distress signal went out leave the survivors wondering if they’ll be rescued, while treading water under a merciless sun. With each day that passes, more men die from their wounds or get picked off by ever-present sharks. Delusions set in: Some men bargain with the Almighty, while others retreat into their imaginations. O’Hara’s fantasy of driving to Montana with his parents gradually merges into memory, and we learn of his love for Atsuko, a young Japanese woman whom he’d met at a dance—a poignant subplot that encapsulates conflicted American attitudes in 1945. Author Loranger, a former Navy man, presents his fictionalized history of the USS Indianapolis with meticulous detail, rich naval lore and bantering humor, and he infuses it with a poetic beauty. Swimming toward warmth, O’Hara thought “he could swim off the edge of the earth and float into the solar surface,” even while dorsal fins circled the “ivory whiteness of his feet...and he did not fault the sharks for coveting them.” After four torturous days in the water, the acceptance of death brings forgiveness, even to predators.
With harrowing suspense and an ending that is as satisfying as it is haunting, this seaman’s odyssey will leave readers pondering their own life choices and courage.