Another Grand Day at Sea by Geoff Dyer
Pantheon, 2014; 208 pp
Reviewed by Winnie Khaw
“Probably the tallest, thinnest, and oldest person in the group,” aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, author Geoff Dyer chronicles his adventures in snappily direct writing informed by a remarkably keen-eyed awareness of his surroundings. Great Day is redeemed from what could have been immeasurable tedium of minute details by Dyer’s comical notices concerning the people and their behavior on the carrier, from cook to captain.
His succinct reporting on his surroundings and the goings-on is awe-inspiring in its clarity and immensity of recall. Personal observations are brisk and quite perceptive, presenting an often original humor, and an unabashedly cynical and sometimes petty character that in no way detracts from the reader’s enjoyment of the book.
Actually, Dyer’s narcissistic, childish, and extreme overreaction to any sort of privation, his hypersensitivity to efficient if not comfortable existence aboard the carrier, is the single constant, a rope thrown down the ship’s side to save me when I’ve gone under waves of surface observation and technical points.
His impressions often seem to miss intimacy and emotional connection, and the significance of acquired knowledge can lack in thoughtful reflection on what transpired. Impressive consciousness of his Acronym Intensive Environment and the processes taking place around him blend immediately into somewhat superficial musings, and ends there.
On this carrier-ship, every day is “another great day at sea.”
“The captain began his address by confirming what everyone already knew: that it was another beautiful day at sea. The trick was not simply to repeat exactly the same thing but to reestablish the same idea--another great day at sea--through slight variations.”
I get the sense that Dyer’s writing--entertaining, direct, and crisp--spins around a similar concept: he continually meets quickly sketched characters (understandably, given the numerous introductions that must be made, and time constraints), but he does not really absorb the experience; instead, for the most part he notes that they are energetic, effective, and devoted to their job.
The description of how “Lieutenant Commander Dave Fowler ... seemed like he might explode with efficiency and zeal” is fairly typical. I wonder if all the workers on the carrier share strikingly similar characteristics, or if Dyer tends to focus on certain qualities and no more.
Dyer’s admirably close and consequently bewildering attention to the situations in which he discovers himself is akin to having my eyeball glued to a microscope scanning cellular slides--the findings are undoubtedly fascinating, but I do need to eventually blink and moisturize.