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The Caine Mutiny - Herman Wouk It is conceivable that most unusual and extraordinary circumstances may arise in which the relief from duty of a commanding officer by a subordinate becomes necessary, either by placing him under arrest or on the sick list; but such action shall never be taken without the approval of the Navy Department or other appropriate higher authority, except when reference to such higher authority is undoubtedly impracticable because of the delay involved or for other clearly obvious reason...

Herman Wouk

The action of this book occurs on a World War Two minesweeper ship and the reason why the actions of the ship and crew seem so realistic is because Herman Wouk actually served on two different minesweepers during the war. He wrote his first book [b:Aurora Dawn|42993|Aurora Dawn|Herman Wouk|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1344270513s/42993.jpg|42436]and found out it was accepted while he was stationed at Okinawa. Wouk superimposes that event on the character Tom Keefer, the man who spends more time writing than he does worrying about the rules and regs imposed by the captain.

U.S.S. Hamilton minesweeper which was the basis for the U.S.S. Caine

The Caine Mutiny was Wouk's second book and hit the market like a bombshell. It was reprinted 14 times in 1951, the initial year of publication and then 7 additional times in the following year. The library copy that I read devotes a page showing the printings and how many books were printed each time. As a collector I love information like that and wish that publishers would provide that information in books being currently published. The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. I have been interested of late in reading some of the post World War Two literature that the reading public couldn't seem to get enough of back in the 1950s. I hope to eventually read [a:Nicholas Monsarrat|47118|Nicholas Monsarrat|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1290801956p2/47118.jpg],[a:James Jones|3999|James Jones|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1227111357p2/3999.jpg], [a:John Hersey|15328|John Hersey|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1257262705p2/15328.jpg], and [a:Irwin Shaw|7735|Irwin Shaw|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1360834990p2/7735.jpg]to name a few. If anyone has a post World War Two book that you feel I should definitely read please do not be shy.

Another interesting fact about Herman Wouk is that he is STILL ALIVE. It didn't even cross my mind that he could still be making motion on this planet. He is 97 years old.

I have not seen the movie inspired by the book, but by all accounts it is really well done. Humphrey Bogart dropped his asking price to secure the role of Captain Queeg. It was a role he was familiar with as a loner, unwilling to accept help from friends or suffer insults from enemies.

Bogart as Captain Queeg

The story is told through the eyes of Willie Keith. A man/boy who joins the Navy simply so he won't get drafted by the Army. His family is very wealthy and his life is really more concerned about a series of parties than about a war being fought in the Pacific. He plays piano and meets a girl named May Wynn, a nightclub singer from the wrong side of the tracks. She is breathtakingly beautiful with red hair, snappy with dialogue, and though his intention is to just have fun with her their relationship becomes...complicated. The problem is that she is descended from not only poor Italian immigrants, but also rather unattractive parents. Keith despite his best efforts can not see a meshing between his upper crust family and the family from the wrong side of the tracks.

Actress Donna Lee Hickey who played May Wynn in the movie.

The actress Donna Lee Hickey who played May Wynn in the movie actually kept the name after the movie and continued to perform under that moniker for the rest of her life. Keith goes through many painful realizations about his relationship with May. He breaks up with her. He then begs for her to come back. When he later in the story comes home to find her and is upset that she is with someone else May crystallizes it for him. "I don't have to listen to you get nasty. Just remember, my friend, you kicked me to the gutter. If somebody picked me up what do you care?" Of course, don't we expect people to pine for us, waiting on a meat hook for us for the rest of their lives?

Captain Queeg joins the ship and finds that the Captain preceding him has been rather lax with regulations. He imposes stricter guidelines which at first is a relief to Keith, but when he gets on the wrong side of Queeg his opinion of the man changes very quickly. After a series of mishaps caused by the Captain's decision making and the inability of the Captain to accept any responsibility for his mistakes the crew turns against him. As the Captain feels this shift his behavior becomes more erratic and soon even the officers start to turn against him.

The novelist Tom Keefer sums up Queeg. About a week after Queeg came aboard I realized he was a psychopath. The shirttail obsession, the little rolling balls, the inability to look you in the eye, the talking in secondhand phrases and slogans, the ice-cream mania, the seclusion--why, the man's a Freudian delight. He crawls with clues. But that doesn't matter. Some of my best friends are psychopaths. It could be argued that I'm one. The thing is, Queeg is an extreme case, bordering on the twilight zone between eccentricity and real psychosis. And because he's a coward, I think that being in a combat zone is beginning to drive him over the red line.

Where this book really shines is in probing the effects of extreme conditions on individuals and how they react under those conditions. I'm still amazed how Wouk deftly turns us against Captain Queeg and then as the plot advances starts to shift our opinions back the other direction. We see Willie Keith evolve from a love sick, immature, self-centered jerk into a real man. He owes the war. Without the war I'm not sure that Willie Keith would have ever become a man worth occupying space on the planet.

After the trial the officers who were so critical of Captain Queeg are they themselves tested and in some cases they are weighed and found to be wanting. Keith is tested and stands up to the pressure, but still comes away with more understanding of the mental fatigue that plagues anyone in authority. When the Caine is hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane the reality of the war hits him square between the eyes.

Kamikaze plane coming in

"Willie was used to the sight of dead people. He had seen a few relatives laid out in plush-lined boxes in the amber gloom of funeral chapels, with an organ mourning sweetly through loudspeakers and a heavy smell of flowers filling the air. No undertaker had intervened, however, to prettify the death of Horrible. The water washed away for a few seconds, and the lantern beam showed the sailor clearly, pinned down and crushed by the battered engine of the Jap plane, his face and his dungarees black with grease. The sight reminded Willie of the mashed squirrels he had often seen lying on the roads of Manhasset on autumn mornings. It was shocking to soak in, all in an instant, the fact that people are as soft and destructible as squirrels."

What really worked for me in this book was the change in perspective from the jocular style at the beginning of the novel to the wise eyes of the characters by the end of the novel. It was as if we were allowed to see the maturing of the writer as he was writing the novel. Highly recommended!