Stephen King and the book ‘The Outsider’

The Outsider by Stephen King came out in hardcover on May 22, 2018 in the United States. The book is the latest in a long line of King books that I’ve read, dating back to my first serious introduction to his writing with the four novellas of Four Past Midnight, which I read about 1990. Many full length novels and shorter works later, I consider myself sufficient fan to delve into at least one work every 12-to-18 months.

The Outsider 2(The Outsider author Stephen King)

During an interview King had in support of The Outsider in May 2018 on Stephen Colbert, King brought up Erik Larson‘s novel Dead Wake. On the show, King spoke of the example of passengers of the RMS Lusitania whose lives were saved because of the chance encounter of seeking another passenger who had looked remarkably like another passenger also on board. This concept of having another person who looked like you inspired the thought that led to a central drama in The Outsider.

The Outsider 3(A hardcover copy of The Outsider)

The story starts with a small town crime against a child. The small town police perform some preliminary investigation into eyewitnesses, forensics, and no interview of the prime suspect, a respected little league coach and family man. Aiming for maximum spectacle and community impact for his reelection candidacy, the small town sheriff has said little league coach arrested in front of a large gathering of spectators at a little league baseball game.

The community experiences strong senses of outrage over the crime as well as the suspected perpetrator. Getting a quality defense attorney involved reveals similarly ironclad evidence that, at the time of the crime, the coach was at a continuing education conference in the presence of hundreds of witnesses. How can this be?

The Outsider 4(Paperback copies of The Outsider)

In getting to the answer of this question, I found myself speeding through the read to find out where the plot would go. The story kept elements of the traditional police procedural, including evidence procurement, lead generation, and pursuit. The story went about addressing the notion of two folks that look like one, or more specifically how one person can be in two places at the same time. As the tension grows, so does the creepy nature for how the answer will be resolved.

The Outsider entertained, kept me engaged, and did not drag on like I feared a book of this length might. The direction of the story wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, which is good from a whodunit. That the story went in a thematic direction that I anticipated with a resolution that I was expecting was somewhat of a disappointment. While entertaining, my sense is that this was not King’s best effort. My grade is 3.5-out-of-5 stars.

Matt – Sunday, September 16, 2018

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About Erik Larson’s ‘Dead Wake’ and the Lusitania

Everyone remembers the dry, dull facts about the sinking of the Lusitania from fifth history class, right? Maybe in a little more detail from high school or some random Western Civilization class picked up somewhere?

Dead Wake 2 - Erik Larson(Erik Larson)

If you find yourself open to the concept that there might be a bit more drama to the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania than your educational experience might be floating to your memory, than the Erik Larson book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is the book for you.

Dead Wake 3 - RMS Lusitania(RMS Lusitania)

Erik Larson tells the story of the fate of the RMS Lusitania in five sections. We learn of the operators of the Cunard Steamship Company of Liverpool fairly early in the story as the Lusitania is due to set sail from New York City on its final voyage. Before the May 1, 1915 sailing, a warning was placed in newspapers warning passengers of all British ships to set sail “at their own risk.” For what it is worth, Larson shares with us that the Cunard Line claimed the Lusitania to be safe, too fast for submarines, and at minimal risk in advance of the sailing.

As the RMS Lusitania set sail, World War One had been waging for nearly a year between the Central Powers mainly of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) against the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan, and, from 1917, the United States.

Dead Wake 4 - RMS Lusitania(RMS Lusitania)

While non-military vessels like the Lusitania were considered off-limits from a military perspective in 1915, history shows that the Lusitania both carried armaments to offer aid to the Allied Powers. Naval combat was a capability for this vessel, too. Human flight being barely a decade old in 1915, the primary means of human movement between Europe and America was through commercial sailing.

The Central Powers felt differently concerning the notion of the RMS Lusitania being off limits as a military target. The leading opposition to British naval superiority at the time of the World War One was Germany with its innovative U-boat fleet of submarines, or “Undersea Boats.” The leading figure relevant to the fate of the story of the Lusitania is Walther Schwieger. Schwieger was the German u-boat captain known to rescue dachshund puppies. As seen from the Allied perspective, Schwieger is known to torpedo merchant vessels and let the crews of torpedoed vessels drown.

Dead Wake 5 - William Thompson Turner & Walther Schwieger(William Thomas Turner, left, and Walther Schwieger, right)

William Thomas Turner was captain of the Lusitania when it was torpedoed. Turner survived the attack, despite taking a reputation hit for not properly combing through contradictory advice for how to avoid the attack that sank the vessel. Per Larson, British intelligence was not forthcoming  in saving his reputation after the fact, or in advance of the Lusitania sinking.

I was deeply curious about why material facts that would have prevented the sinking of the Lusitania, or saved the reputation of its captain, would be withheld from the public record. The rationale forwarded in Deep Wake was that the isolationist sentiment in United States under U.S. President Woodrow Wilson made for a reluctant entry into World War One. Given the loss of American life in this tragedy, a cynical calculus suggests that allowing the Lusitania to sink would outrage America into a more active war footing.

Dead Wake 6 - Woodrow Wilson & Winston Churchill(Woodrow Wilson, left, and Winston Churchill, right)

Winston Churchill served as the First Lord of the Admirality when the Lusitania sank. The Admirality had the super-secret spy entity Room 40 at its disposal. Room 40 knew of the U-Boat movements in the waters where the Lusitania was torpedoed. Owing to sensitivity of not wanting to divulge to the Central Powers that the British had knowledge of their U-boat movements and other communications, there arguably was an additional calculus to not divulging facts to the Lusitania. In subsequent official inquiries, Churchill flatly lied in pointing blame at Turner for the Lusitania sinking while possessing proof that countered his own testimony.

1198 of 1959 passengers died on the Lusitania. The vessel listed to starboard and sank in 18-minutes. Lifeboats, lack of drills, and chaos around retrieving life preservers and wearing them caused death. The last two sections of the book covered the sinking and the historical aftermath for key figures in the story.

Stephen King even sited this book as an inspiration for his book ‘The Outsider’ on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in May 2018. See the link from Colbert‘s show starting at 5:45-mark.

Overall, my ranking of the book was 3.5-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Year 2017 in Reading: 35 Books (The Silver Books)

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, you learned with my last blog that we exceeded that goal. 17 books received a bronze rating. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated these 15-books with a silver rating of 4.0 stars.

Ranking as a silver rating with 4.00 stars in 2017 included these fifteen (15) books:

Something that strikes me is that each of these books had something to teach me that was both unique and distinct from some experience that I had experienced previously.

Mans Search for Meaning 1

In the Garden of Beasts and Man’s Search for Meaning both look into the larger experience of World War Two from quite different perspectives and motivations. Seeking a relationship with the cultural concept of America is at the core of A Walk in the Woods and  Team of Rivals, at least for my reading of these two works this year.

a-walk-in-the-woods-1

A deep and soul-searching self-examination were important for the works by Joan Didion and Khaled Hosseini. The larger arcs of history were examined in Dava Sobel and Virginia Woolf, both for women and for culture. Dickens and Ishiguro share a cultural review of wealth and British culture, stoicism, and an interest in uplift.

A Room of One's Own 3

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is perhaps a demonstration of the best newer author that I have read on the list of those included in our list of writers. The many perspectives and internal dialogues are quite engaging, nuanced, and prompts me to want to seek out more. For this result, I offer praise.

The Secret History

The above listing of books reflects the silver listing of books that I read in 2017. The bronze listing was published yesterday. A gold listing will follow soon.

Matt – Saturday, December 30, 2017

Elie Wiesel’s “Night” is psychologically graphic and necessary

Elie Wiesel’s Night was an emotionally difficult book to read. The psychological torture of Wiesel’s experience, and so many others like him that had it as bad or worse (not sure what might be worse … American slavery seems at least similar in context and cruelty). That this happened during the lifetime of people I grew up loving brings this particular account and atrocity closer to home; that is likely about anchoring.

The legitimate nightmare and anguish of Elie Wiesel’s experience is psychologically graphic and horrifying. Descriptions including psychologically graphic and horrifying make this book both a necessary and compelling reading. It’s a bit disappointing that my seventh-grade class had us read Seth McEvoy’s Batteries Not Included. This isn’t to diminish McEvoy’s effort; my point is that seventh grade seems like a reasonable time to expose children to questions involving historical and emotional literacy.

For illuminating something for scrutiny that needs to be seen, this book earns 4.5-stars. That the brutality indicated by Wiesel in Night occurred really spells out the crime of what Erik Larson wrote about in his book In the Garden of Beasts.

Matt – Monday, February 6, 2017

Positive feedback for Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

In In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, Erik Larson recounts the career of the American Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, particularly the years 1933 to 1937 when he and his family, including his daughter Martha, lived in Berlin. The book draws out the tension and intrigue of place and period well, including the romances of Martha.

Similar in appeal to the writing of Michael Lewis (see my recent review of The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds), Larson focused on individual people in drawing out a bigger sense of the core subject matter. Unlike Lewis’ accomplishments that lacked a sense of place but had a clear sense of people, In the Garden of Beasts succeeded on both accounts. Place and people were seen in full color in their humanity.

William Dodd earned his Ph.D. in Leipzig many, many years in advance of his ambassadorship. While Dodd clearly hoped to influence Germany’s new Nazi government to take a comparatively more moderate path than it did, the truth is that he saw firsthand persecution of Jews during his stay; he took no effective steps to foment opposition to that persecution during his stay. Some have argued that Dodd was a bit too fond of his youthful memories from Leipzig, which in turn played a hand in his inability to see clear warning signs of impending peril earlier.

Martha, separated from her husband and in the process of divorce, became caught up in the glamor and excitement of Berlin’s social scene. Her romantic affairs were front and center, including a relationship with Soviet attaché and secret agent Boris Vinogradov. She defended the Soviet regime to her skeptical friends. After William Dodd returned to America and took ill with the condition that would take his life early during World War Two, it was Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels who would use this and other romantic endeavors by Martha to attack the service of her father.

The assessments of Dodd’s effectiveness during the build-up of the Nazi war machine are largely poor. Larson takes largely this view in sharing this story and level-setting early on that Dodd was no hero in the larger affairs. U.S. Consul to Berlin alongside Dodd seeks to take some of the sting out of the valid criticism leveled at the former ambassador; that he is compared unfavorably to similar ambassadors to Germany from France and England, while not explicitly stated by Larson, is clearly implied by the tone of this book.

In demonstrating the feel and time of Berlin from 1933 to 1937 so well, my sense is that Larson did well to demonstrate how basically no one believed that Adolf Hitler would last long as a German leader. The relative ease with which he gained that leadership and reformed the form of Germany’s government with the tacit approval of the German populace is skillfully done. That the first maybe forty percent of the book is used to lay the groundwork of a very human telling to one family’s perspective on the Nazi buildup may be off putting for some readers. My recommendation is to stick with the book.

My recommendation is to read this book; I further feel that readers under the age of 30, especially if not married or not parents, would be less inclined to enjoy this book than some one that fits one or both descriptions. My rating is 4-stars out of five.

Matt – Thursday, January 12, 2017