I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic by Allan Wolf

Okay. Let's get this part out of the way. This book is a long poem. Now don't leave me. Hear me out. This isn't the poetry your high school English teacher tried to stuff down your throat. And speaking of which, I have placed at the end of this review, a list of poets and some of their poems if you are interested in reading something truly worthwhile.  First of all, the book is separated into twenty-five voices. When once voice is speaking it takes up a page or two, then stops. Technically it is poetry as it is written that way, but when you read it you quickly forget, because your mind just reads and goes with the flow of words and you stop noticing that they are on shortened lines.  You fall into the rhythm of the book.

Now, the voices. Two of them are going to seem odd choices and they don't appear often, but they do have very good reasons for appearing. One is the Iceberg, who is quite cold and calculatingly evil, in a way that only Nature can be. The other is the rats. They act like some kind of Greek chorus, but as I said, they do have a much deeper reason for being there.  The other voices are those of people who actually were on the Titanic.  The author used what information he had on them to help form their narrative and story, but there will always be some creative license when it comes to writing about the dead.

It is hard at first to open yourself up to these people because you don't want to like them as "characters" since you know they might die at the end.  However, I found myself breaking down and letting them into my mind to root for them to live or to go down with the ship.  Some of the voices you know, such as John Jacob Astor, Margaret "Molly" Brown, and Captain E. J. Smith.  He also includes the Spark, the Baker, a Junior officer, the Lookout, the ship's Postman, the Navigator, the Second Violin, the Entree Cook, the Stoker, and the Bagpiper. Among the passengers there is a the man who designed the Titanic, Thomas Andrew, Bruce Ismay, the man who owned part of the company that owned the Titanic, an Immigrant, a Gambler, a Dragon Hunter, a Tailor (who is not who he says he is), the Tailor's son, and a Refugee and her brother. Outside of the Titanic there is the Carpathia's wireless man and then there is the Undertaker who much later would be helping to identify,  embalm or preparing for burial at sea the bodies from the Titanic.

It's hard to choose which people to mention here as they are all so interesting in their own ways. The Refugee, Jamila Nicola-Yarred and her younger brother Elias were supposed to be there with their father, but he couldn't come because they wouldn't let him on the ship with this infected eye. They missed their other ship by some quirk of fate.  Jamila is the eldest, but she is Lebanese and she is expected to walk behind her father and her younger brother.  But before they get on the boat, her father gives her all the money he has and entrusts her with taking care of the two of them, which is quite an honor and really ticks off her annoying brother.  On the ship, someone tries to steal the money, but a young man, Alfred (the Dragon Hunter's older brother), gets it back to her, and with a look the two fall in love as only teenagers can.

The Second Violin, John "Jock" Hume, is on board because he needs to make a lot of money and he needs time to figure out which lady he wants to keep: the Eberle or the Guagadnini violin.  It will be the instrument he will play for the rest of his life.  He is engaged to be married to a woman named Mary back home who is carrying his child, which is another reason he needs the money.  Jock also finds himself in hot water quite often with the conductor by playing with flourishes, as he is testing the violin.  He also goes out, as all the musicians do to play to the people on the ship for tips. He meets up with Frankie Goldsmith, the Dragon Hunter (the kid is wonderful) and tells him the truth about what is dragon's blood on a ship and then plays him the Debussy song "Frankie and Johnny" to try to cheer him up as it has their names in it.  Jock is a delight to read as he is so passionate and fun. He makes you feel like dancing as you can almost hear the music that he plays.

There are some questionable people on the ship and they include Louis Hoffman, a man who is sailing under someone Else's name, as he has stolen his children after divorcing his wife.  Thomas Hart, the Stoker, is also traveling under another name, but you don't know why for a very long time. He realizes that one of the members of the crew can identify him and he spends his time avoiding that person. George Brereton, the Gambler is working on conning Charles Stengel, an American. He goes by the name Lord Brayton and at first his plan is one based on gambling, but then he sees an opportunity for a much longer con.

It is fascinating how he writes some of the dialogue for some of the voices that reflects exactly what they do.  The Postman, Oscar Woody's words are interrupted with the words "Sort. Shuffle-Shuffle. Slot. Shuffle-Shuffle" as that is exactly what he is doing as he talks to the other postman, Mr. March. With the Spark, it's dots and dashes as he has to send messages on the wireless for the passengers.  When the rats dialogue shows up it scurries across the page, just as they would. It really puts you inside their skin. Except for the rats. And later, when the Ship Builder is speaking after the Titanic has been hit, the words tilt this way and that on the page as though you were on the ship that is listing about as it takes on water.

There have been many books about the Titanic over the years, but none have been like this. This is such a unique and wonderful book that I really enjoyed reading. It was a true surprise and delight.  At the end of the book, the author tells you where he took liberties and what exactly happened with these people, which by the time you get to the end of this book, you are completely invested in their lives and will want to know. This is the Titanic book you want to read above all others. I highly recommend it.

Titanic Facts:
Total Number of People on board: 2,207 (712 survived)
First class: 324 (201)
Second class 277 (118)
Third class 708 (181)
Crew: 885 (212)
Musicians: 8 (0)
Postmen: 5 (0)
Dogs: 12 (3)
Married couples: 107 (together 22)
Female and child survivors: 389 or 54.6% of total)
Male survivors: 323 (45.4% of total)
Men who survived after going down with the ship: 52
Women who survived after going down with the ship: 1
Total people lost: 1,495
Total recovered: 330
Number of boats it could accommodate: 64 (had 20/18 launched)
Total potential capacity: 1,178 (actual on boats 659)
Age of Titanic: Three Years
Age of Iceberg: 10,000 Years


You see, I’m trying both instruments out, runnin’ each through her trials if you like, in order to decide which of the two will be Jock Home’s “life instrument.”  The choice is much the same as choosing a wife—maybe even more difficult. Choosing a wife was easy enough for me. Mary Costin will soon be the mother of my child. So Mary will be the lady of my house, but my violin, she will become the voice of my soul.
-Allan Wolf (The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic p 74)
 And I wondered how the word boy could possibly apply to both my vile annoying brother and the pretty thing before me, standing on the crane.

-Allan Wolf (The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic p 78)
 Mrs. March and I will be reunited soon enough. She left me her forwarding address. And we both have the same destination label. [postman]

-Allan Wolf (The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic p 84)
 Man’s fatal flaw is misplaced optimism: through hubris, it refuses to understand that chaos is the ruling law of Nature while order’s just a futile dream of man.

-Allan Wolf (The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic p 95)
 I knew in my heart that dragons do exist. I didn’t care what the older boys said. Or how they laughed. Maybe as boys grow up, they lose their ability to see.

-Allan Wolf (The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic p 134)

Mrs. Candee commented that all of us passengers reminded her of a fancy-dress party in hell. And I quite agreed. Everyone wore a hodgepodge combination of sleepwear, evening wear, and winter wear—all of it layered in disarray. The orchestra added to the effect when it assembled on deck and launched into an endless series of ragtime tunes.
-Allan Wolf (The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic p 323)
 Poetry Recommendations:
Edgar Allen Poe: The Raven (of course) Annabel Lee, Dream Within a Dream, The Sleeper
Stephen Crane: (Forget Red Badge of Courage his poetry is ten times better): Once There Came a Man, In the Desert, Should the Wide World Roll Away
Herman Melville: (Same thing applies): Shiloh: A Requiem (April 1862), Misgivings, After the   Pleasure Party:Lines Traced Under Amor Threatening
Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken (of Course), Mending Wall, Fire and Ice, Love and a Question
Uncle Walt Whitman: Song of Myself, A Noiseless Patient Spider, Are You the New Person Drawn Toward Me?, Oh Captain, My Captain
Carl Sandburg: Chicago, Fog, Cool Tombs, Doors, Choose
Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson: Claribel, The Lady of Shalott, Charge of the Light Brigade, Locksley Hall
The Romantic Studs:
   Lord Byron: And Thou Art  Dead, As Young and Fair, Darkness, She Walks In Beauty, Don Juan (If you have time
   Percy Bysse Shelly: Alstor; or The Spirit of Solitude, Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, Art Thou Pale For Weariness
   John Keats: La Belle Dame Sans Merci (The Beautiful Woman Without Mercy), Ode On a Nightingale, Fancy, Modern Love
The Lovely Ladies:
   Edna St. Vincent Millay: First Fig, Ebb, Departure, Ashes of Life, What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why, I Think I Should Have Loved You Presently
   Emily Dickinson: "Hope" is the thing with feathers, After great pain, A Formal feeling comes, Because I could not stop for Death, Crumbling is not an instant's act, Forever is composed of Nows
   Margret Atwood: Eye, In the Secular Night, Marrying the Hangman, Siren Song, The Circle Game, They Eat Out
   Marge Piercy:  The Token Woman, Rape Poem, Morning Half-Life Blues, The Cat's Song, Implications of One Plus One
   Sylvia Plath: Blackberries, Elm, Lady Lazarus, The Applicant, Tulips
  Anne Sexton: Old, From the Garden, Eleanor Boylan Talking With God, The Wedding Night, The House, The Black Art, The Operation

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Watch-That-Ends-Night-Titanic/dp/076366331X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469034667&sr=1-1&keywords=the+watch+that+ends+the+night+voices+from+the+titanic

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