Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
They were sitting in the submarine wardroom on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean one morning, when the Commanding Officer entered and began his briefing for the planned war games. Two sentences in, the navigator looked up in surprise. Two more, and the executive officer cleared his throat. By the time the CO paused, all the officers were staring at him with wide eyes.
My husband, the chief engineer on the oldest submarine in the Atlantic that day in 1984, said, “Sir?”
The CO swiped his hand across his face. “Hmm. Is that what we’re really supposed to do, or was that in the book last night?”
Deadly silence in the service. Someone asked, “What book, sir?”
Can you guess?
That was our introduction to Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.
Clancy deserves a post all his own–his writing story is amazing–but his early submarine books reflected our personal life like few before or since. It really was that true-to-life, and for years we told people interested in submarine life to read the book. Or see the excellent movie.
All you need for verisimilitude is the smell–so sit in a small closet with salty clothing, smoking a cigarette, spilling oil, and sweating like mad. Then you’ll really understand submarine life in all its senses–assuming you don’t take a shower for five days before hand.
It opened my eyes to what my husband experienced every day and made me appreciate him and his fellow sailors even more.
Clancy hit me again on an emotional level with his Red Storm Rising in 1986. The story of World War III, this one featured two submarine crews: men off the USS La Jolla and the USS Boston. When both submarines were sunk off the Greenland icepack, I had to set the novel aside. I was crying too hard to see the words.
I knew the CO of the Boston, and had friends on the LaJolla. Submarines weren’t supposed to be destroyed in my world. I couldn’t return to the book until I got past the horror of what it would have been like to lose someone on a boat.
Clancy wrote about machines and men; I knew the life of the women who waited for those boats and men. He gave me uncanny insight into a mystery–information I needed, but which came in an “entertaining” form. It felt almost too powerful to be endured.
Do you know other books like this? Have you ever been sucked into a book that describes a unique setting in such a concrete and full way that you finish it feeling as if you’ve lived the story? How did the author do it?