Book review: ‘Another Great Day at Sea’

Tampa Bay TimesJune 21, 2014 

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  • Nonfiction

    Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush

    Geoff Dyer

    Pantheon, 190 pages

A run-of-the-mill writer might describe the flight deck of an American aircraft carrier as being as big as so many football fields. Someone more ambitious might calculate that X number of people could fit on the deck. Here’s Geoff Dyer’s approach: “How big was it? Impossible to say. It was as big as it was. There was nothing to compare it with.”

“Another Great Day at Sea” recounts his two weeks as a civilian visitor aboard the USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf in 2011.

Its tone might be best summed up by noting that Dyer packed a Ping-Pong paddle for the journey. “After all I’d heard about the size of these carriers I’d assumed there would be an abundance of facilities. I even had hopes of a tennis court.” Reality proved more cramped.

Dyer’s early impression was that the “whole enterprise reeked of oil” – the need for it and the need to go to war to secure it – but foreign policy, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and sexual assault in the military are touched glancingly, if at all.

Dyer is more focused on food, his personal comfort and trying not to explode in rage when he can’t get an Internet connection. Though he tends to make everything about himself, he provides entertaining and moving accounts of the lives and duties of men and women aboard the Bush.

In a book where metaphors and similes could easily run wild, Dyer deploys them sparingly and to good effect: “Like a buffalo brought down by a lion who then summons the rest of her pride to tuck in, an F-18 was being pecked, prodded and taken apart by a gang of mechanics and engineers.”

The ship’s routines and drills meant there was “never a dull moment,” yet “an endless succession of dull moments.”

Nothing dull about Dyer, though.

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