sterling hayden, the man who wrote this book, was a man of many stripes. a quick read of his wikipedia page
informs us that he stood 6 feet 5 inches tall, and that among his many pursuits he was a film actor in such films as, "The Asphalt Jungle", "Johnny Guitar" and Robert Altman's version of "The Long Goodbye" co-starring opposite elliot gould-- and then a soldier and spy in WWII and foremost, a "sailor man", the calling he felt most strongly. he wrote an autobiography entitled [b:Wanderer|264204|Wanderer|Sterling Hayden|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347352292s/264204.jpg|256120] which i am more eager to read after reading this novel that so obviously followed hemingway's write-what-you-know dictum. three different characters in this novel are 6'5" bear-like men, as hayden was, who loved the sea. what makes the novel great is verite behind it -- the person who told this story clearly lived in the world he attempted to fictionalize.
the novel is sometimes charmingly, sometimes horrifying rambling. the first 150 pages are spent introducing characters, some of which never really impact the rest of the novel: the repressed clerk lemuel sponagle (also referenced as lem q. sponagle) who has his big moment in trying to focus on the ships instead of the hot bear-like man meat that is hayden avatar number one, captain irons
saul pendleton (variously described and aged as the book wears on -- though the action of the novel takes place over a year) and al kautsky, the guy who lived underground with a mule only to escape that life to take refuge inside the statue of liberty is listed as one of the men shanghaied onto the neptune's car
but he never figures in any subsequent action. i felt sure that these were characters that hayden had met at some point or another and could not resist cramming into his book. i weighed the idea that this already 700-page brick was still longer when submitted for publication and an editorial hand might have reduced the novel so that characters like this -- forgive me -- felt at sea, but the novel is still so uneven that i am inclined to believe it was never seen by an editorial eye. it is all over the place, telling a myriad of stories, among them a murder aboard ship, a nymphomaniac searching for something to do off shore, a bunch of rich people going on a scientific exploration, maritime labour unions and movements, accidents, and mutiny. for the most part these strands are not resolved to any great satisfaction at the end of the voyage though of course landfall makes a natural end.
i laughed a lot when reading this book. the comic book hero meets charles dickens naming convention was hilarious: banning butler blanchard, simon basil harwar, carl carmack of the carnarsee carmacks, and montague reid cutting to list a few. there were also some very off-colour descriptions i enjoyed very much. when it tried to be serious the intentions were good, and some passages were lovely. i'd recommend it for fans of sterling hayden, for people who like a sometimes scurrilous, sometimes shocking, always sprawling novel as expansive as the seas that the author loved so well.