Thursday, January 16, 2014

"The Voyage of the Rose City," by John Moynihan

This review aims to do John Moynihan the honor of considering “The Voyage of the Rose City” on its merits rather than dwell on the fact it is written by famous a U.S. Senator's son who left the world too soon.

“Rose City” refers to the merchant tanker ship the author took a character-building job on back in 1980. A well-heeled boy with a developed intellect and soft hands, he comes in for a good deal of disdain from the hard-bitten types that make up the Rose City's crew.

Moynihan's narrative drags when he gets into the nuts and bolts of industrial labor on a big tanker. Yes, he's diving for pearls those of us with regular lives are unfamiliar with, but the detail is too heavy. Of course, another seafaring text, “Moby Dick” is guilty of the same crime where facts about whales and the industry that harvests them are concerned. So there you have it.

He also frontloads his portraits of the crew so that you either have a great memory or have to mark the descriptions and return to them when a character surfaces with little more than a name clipped to his ear. But lots of great novelists have used that technique as well. So there you have it.

“Rose City” isn't so much a story as a literary documentary about life on a merchant vessel. The only narratives that exist are of the small bore type and focus on Moynihan's evolving relationship with individual crew members. These have mostly satisfying results as he slowly begins to blend in with those different than himself (becoming less different through the seafaring life), but they are not very deep.

A lot has happened since 1980 that both add and detract from the value of the text. Now, of course, it is a timepiece describing a bygone world. A book about work, which is rare these days, much as we are all saddled with the obligation.

As you read, the idea of the cell phone keeps popping into one's mind as these modern men endure the pain of separation from loved ones that today would have made their lives much easier.

The western literary canon offers many a diary of life at sea and Moynihan's is a worthy addition to that canon, for those who revel in adventure, and for those that dream of doing what this one writer did.

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