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

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Movie review of The Shawshank Redemption

A pair of good friends have listed the movie The Shawshank Redemption (1994) in their top ten movies of all time. I am so glad that both my friends Cobra and Airport Friend recommended this movie in their top ten lists of movies because I found an entertaining movie with strong messages of hope, friendship, and perseverance in what Fandango called a “humane prison drama.”

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, The Shawshank Redemption was adapted into the Oscar-nominated screenplay by Frank Darabont. The screenplay itself is based on the Stephen King story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, one of four “novellas” included as part of the book Different Seasons.

The central humanity of the story comes from the growing bond forged over years of incarceration at the Shawshank prison that purportedly exists in New England generally and most likely Maine specifically.

The Shawshank Redemption 2(Andy Dufresne, left, and Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding)

The character Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding narrates the story and plays a large role, both parts portrayed by Morgan Freeman. Red is guilty of the crime that put him behind bars, though acts of common decency through the film make him sympathetic to the movie viewer.

Andy Dufresne as played by Tim Robbins is brought to prison after falsely being convicted of the murder of his wife and her mistress. Dufresne was first imprisoned in 1947 through a false imprisonment, though the truth of this outcome is unclear for the movie viewer through much of the film.

Two of the primary antagonists pitted against Andy and Red are Warden Samuel Norton as played by Bob Gunton and Captain Hadley as played by Clancy Brown. The two authority figures proved themselves corruptible, corrupted, and from their first scene incorrigibly abusive of their bent of religion that they saw fit to proselytize upon a prison population in a false and contemptible way. Norton and Hadley were culpable for two murders, extortion, tax fraud, and other crimes within the prison.

The Shawshank Redemption 3(Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding, left, Warden Samuel Norton, center, and Captain Hadley)

The Shawshank Redemption was not ranked in the Matt Lynn Digital listing of movies prior to this review. The message about common decency leading to redemption is a strongly American story. That those in the wrong were given their comeuppance extends that trope further. From these perspectives, you will complete a viewing pleased satisfied. For this reason, I recommend that you see The Shawshank Redemption soon.

Matt – Tuesday, January 02, 2018.

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

When challenged to read books in 2017, I joined friends who had set individual targets  based on their interest level and the challenges life had in front of them. Three friends proposed to read 15 books. Three really ambitious readers proposed reading 50 books, 60 books, and 75 books in succession with varying degrees of reported success. In fact, I had one friend that reported reading a few hundred pages per day to the tune of 379 books read.

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, we both exceeded our goal by landing in the thirty-plus books range. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated the 35-books mostly as worthy reads.

Five (5) books landed with ratings of less than average, which is to say at 3.25-stars or less.  Eleven (11) books landed at average with a rating of 3.5-stars while one (1) landed at slightly above average with 3.75-stars. These seventeen (17) books will be collected into this remembrance of 2017. Simply follow the links for a fuller review of any particular book.

Ranking as above average at 3.75 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Having written in a style reminiscent of Agatha Christie, I particularly liked the notion of there being two mysteries in a single book to unravel. One might remember that I spent an entire blog post in 2016 reviewing the Agatha Christie books read in 2016.

Magpie Murders 1

Ranking as average at 3.5 stars in 2017 included these eleven (11) books:

I stayed mostly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with these books, with Candide being the notable exception.

Candide 1

Ranking as just below average at 3.25 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Live By Night 1

Ranking as slightly below average at 3.0 stars in 2017 included these three (3) books:

My ranking of James Joyce came as the biggest disappointment here as I had hoped for something that would resonate more fully with me. Perhaps the larger issue here was my coming to the book in my forties rather than as a younger man.

ulysses

Ranking lowest at 2.50 stars in 2017 included this book:

That final book lands in the pulp fiction genre; the book itself was recommended by Stephen King, whose writing has some quirks to it though has been entertaining to me. The bottom line for this book for me is to realize that not all influences to authors that entertain me are books that I would want to read.

At the Mountains of Madness 1

The above listing of books reflects the bronze listing of books. A silver and gold listing will follow shortly.

Matt – Friday, December 29, 2017

Uncoiling ‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (in the United States). When this award winner for E. Annie Proulx came recommended on a Stephen King recommended reading list put out by a book publisher, so I put the book on the “please buy it” list at the library and, a happy read later, I wind my thoughts together into this review.

The Shipping News tells the story of Quoyle and his two daughters as they uproot their lives following the death of the two-timing wife and mother to the harbor town of Killick-Claw, Newfoundland, Canada. The family reconnects with a place that none of them knows with an aunt of Quoyle’s who remembers a long ago past for the family’s ancestors in this place. The story, too, is an evocation of place much stronger than the movie Manchester By The Sea, a sad 2016 movie that owes much in tone to this book, and perhaps The Shipping News (2001) movie of several years earlier.

The Shipping News 2(Annie Proulx)

Proulx performs well in bringing out a sense of local color both for place and for people in her telling of The Shipping News. The story shows four people, namely the widowed Quoyle, his nameless aunt, and Quoyle’s two young kids, Bunny and Sunshine,  struggling with the sudden changes beset by the death of a cheating wife. The nameless aunt seems more strongly the stand-in narrator for Proulx in The Shipping News, though Quoyle is the clear if befuddled, third-rate newspaper hack protagonist for the story.

That Quoyle was socially inept through the story is much of the launching point of the story. That Quoyle was offered the stabilizing support of an intelligent aunt, a ready job, and a befuddled backwater of a town that lets him earn his keep makes the story all a bit neat. That the mystery of Quoyle and this story rests in his ability to untangle the knot of a new life, or metaphorically to “uncoil” the rope of his family and life story, is the principal tying the story together. I appreciated the metaphorical offerings by Proulx.

Overall, my feeling for this novel is one wherein I feel I’ve been here already. I did mention that Manchester By The Sea seems to have done this plot, though that movie clearly came second. I offer a rating for the book of 3-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Tuesday, July 18, 2017

At the Mountains of Madness with The King of Weird, H.P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft never amounted to much during his life spent mostly in Providence, Rhode Island. His tombstone reads “I am Providence,” as is readily apparent in the link I’ve attached with his name in the first sentence. The 2015 Philip Eil penned piece in The Atlantic, which aligned to the 125th anniversary of Lovecraft‘s birth, offers you insight into the down-and-out pulp fiction writer of “cosmic horror” that was never appreciated for his craft until after his death. Perhaps that is fair in the face of his reputed racism, though Lovecraft’s work has influenced a notable writer or two.

A recommendation of Lovecraft‘s book At the Mountains of Madness by Stephen King brought me to Lovecraft‘s writing about six weeks ago. I wasn’t quite two-thirds into the book when I discovered how effusive King was about Lovecraft. Consider a December 1995 piece written by Curt Wohleber for American Heritage. In the in-depth article provocatively titled “The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King,” the contemporary King shares the power of Lovecraft‘s influence.

“Now that time has given us some perspective on his work,” says Stephen King, “I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale. …. it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”

In The Atlantic piece, Eil tells us that

“Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine Lovecraft faced such poverty and obscurity, when regions of Pluto are named for Lovecraftian monsters, the World Fantasy Award trophy bears his likeness, his work appears in the Library of America, the New York Review of Books calls him “The King of Weird,” and his face is printed on everything from beer cans to baby books to thong underwear. The author hasn’t just escaped anonymity; he’s reached the highest levels of critical and cultural success. His is perhaps the craziest literary afterlife this country has ever seen.”

A crazy, weird afterlife of a literary perspective following a poverty and obscurity partly derived from shying away from selling himself and his talents. Part of this issues arguably of the man himself.

At the Mountains of Madness 2

Lovecraft tends toward a professorial air in the writing that I have seen, which is specifically the novella At the Mountain of Madness as recommended by King. The book itself gets into other wordly beings far more intelligent then man coming to earth millions of years ago in order to enslave humanity. That notion gives way to main characters approaching the world with scientific or psychological curiosity. Many die while others losing control of their own actions in the present or future. The characters sense psychological well-being, or physical well-being, slipping away while finding themselves powerless to change course.

The main characters in At the Mountain of Madness were educated, rational, and without a spirituality beyond stepping back, recording their impressions scientifically without emotion, philosophy, or a religious fervor beyond their assumed objectivity, their assumed skill in discernment and interpretation and planning, and their overly proper infatuation with an articulation and air that seemed overly formal yet correct.

At the Mountains of Madness 3

For writing from the era between Edgar Allan Poe and the contemporary Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft gave America a quintessential voice for horror the ostensibly bridged the path between the two behemoths of the American horror style. I am hesitant to pick up another Lovecraft book currently, which might be more a statement of the writing style of the time Lovecraft lived in rather than Lovecraft‘s writing itself. I enjoyed reading At the Mountain of Madness, though I am not sure that I would recommend it. 2.5-stars out-of-five.

Matt – Sunday, April 16, 2017

Top 20 Movie “The Shining.”

Stephen King has a solid history with his writings making a transition from book to television mini-series, cinematic movie, and a little more tenuously stage production. The second movie to make a transition from novel to the big screen is the 1980 Stanley Kubrick produced, directed, and written (as a screenplay) movie The Shining. King’s novel was first published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1977, coming in at 659-pages (per the novel’s Wikipedia page).

The Shining was a fortuitous marriage of some of Hollywood’s more commercially successful stakeholders. There was the novelist King, the producer, screenwriter and director Kubrik, and the starring actor Jack Nicholson. These three brought something special and awesome together.

King gave us The Shawshank Redemption (1994)The Green Mile (1999)Stand By Me (1986), and Misery (1990)Kubrik gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)Spartacus (1960)A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)Nicholson gave us Chinatown (1974),  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)A Few Good Men (1992)As Good As It Gets (1997), and The Departed (2006).

Beyond bringing together the above three all-stars with their commercial success and influence, the story is a masterful examination of falling into madness in a place of isolation meant to force the confrontation of it. Jack Torrance (Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) give us a convincing glimpse into three characters with questionable grasps on reality. The narrative question that the viewer confronts with the Torrances is “are any of these three reliably sane?” At what point are we losing a grasp with reality? Is this person already descended into madness (mental health is a clear narrative device)?

The truth is that these questions elevate to the storytelling itself. Is the narrative itself reliable?  From the beginning scene where Jack Torrance is interviewing to be the caretaker for a snowbound hotel, Torrance is told that a former caretaker murdered his family and committed suicide. Something is clearly off, even then, when Jack brushes this off with the note that his wife enjoys ghost stories and horror films. Nothing in the Wendy’s character confirms this is true, though the frame of the story as a possible ghost story (it isn’t) and a definite horror film is set right from the start.

One might wonder where the notion of “shining” or “the shining” even comes into the storytelling of The Shining. That notion comes in with the character of Danny, who has the gift of “shining,” which is the psychic gift seeing things from the past and future while also reading minds. In this image here, you get an echo of the opening tale shared with Jack Torrance regarding the murders of the previous family, as we remember from that beginning tale that the first murderous caretaker took the lives of his two daughters.the-shining-2

That the notion of reliable characters is part of that scene comes up when Wendy Torrance doesn’t know to believe the “shining” of Danny, because it is completely reasonable to suspect that the Tony that Danny speaks of might simply be an imaginary friend. The growing drama that leads us to understand the meaning of Danny’s singing “redrum” is part of the genius of the larger tale of The Shining.

The content and tension of this movie, The Shining, is one that I recommend wholeheartedly to those with the temperament to enjoy. Psychological horror stories, as the Wikipedia page for the book tells us is true for the novel, are not for everyone. As such, Lynn of Matt Lynn Digital would neither watch nor enjoy this 18th ranked film on the Matt Lynn Digital blog. On the other hand, I do recommend that you watch.

Matt – Saturday, January 21, 2017