Untamed Seas
One Woman's True Story of
Shipwreck and Survival

Deborah Scaling Kiley
With Meg Noonan

(Mariner)
In October of 1982 Deborah Scaling Kiley set sail with four others in a routine journey to Florida. They departed Maine on a fifty-eight foot cruising sailboat called Trashman, owned by a Texas man who had made a bundle in garbage (he wasn't along for the ride.)

Kiley was no greenhorn. She was an experienced ocean-going sailor who had been in Race Week Antigua, and the Whitbread --- the prestigious English race. (Indeed, she was the first American woman ever to sail in the Whitbread.) But nothing prepared her for what was to occur on the Trashman: a storm, a captain who was more interested in drinking than the necessary preparedness for sailing, along with his live-in girl-friend (who hated boats), and a crew member by the name of Mark who was nuts.

Days after they left from Narragansett Bay, they ran into a brutal storm and the Trashman sank, and the five of them ended up on a Zodiac. Their week or so on the tiny dinghy make up the bulk of Untamed Seas, and it's enough to make you and me forswear ever setting foot in an oceangoing craft for the rest of our days.

They were adrift from 24 October until 2 November, and in that period of time, John the Captain and crew member Mark drank seawater and went bananas and disappeared overboard (both saying something like they were heading out to the nearest 7-11 for cigarettes). The captain's lady-friend up and died from exposure and from the wounds that she had suffered when the boat went down, and lay there moldering in the Zodiac with them for hours. Then it was only Brad and Deborah, swatting the sharks and lying in their own wastes (it kept them warm, ug) or wrapping sargasso seaweed about them to protect them from the cold: even so, tiny crabs nipped at their tender parts mercilessly.

The most astonishing part of Untamed Seas is not the wreck or the survival in the stormy waters or heroism. In fact, heroism seems to be in short supply with these five characters. The dialogue that goes back and forth between them while they are presumably fighting for their lives is worse than anything you've ever heard from the Bickersons:

    I got out from under the rubber cover to find Mark yanking on my little toe, saying, 'I told you just to pull it off. It's so infected it's just going to fall off anyway.”

    'Leave it alone. Don't touch it!' I kicked at him and caught him in the chin. He fell back against the side.

    'Did you see that, Brad?' I asked. 'The guy tried to rip off my toe.”

    'Mark, don't rip off Debbie's toe,' Brad said without emotion.

    'She's going to lose it. I was trying to help.”

    'Don't touch me again.”

    'I don't want to touch you.”

    'Asshole.”

    'Cunt.”

Can you imagine being stuck on a liferaft with this bunch for an hour --- much less a week --- without getting fed up and diving overboard just to get away from their piddling, noxious, noisy endless nagging? No wonder the others struck out for cigarettes early on.

Debbie, the author of the book, turns out to be a weird one indeed. She confesses that she's been bulimic all these years, scarfing down big meals and then hotfooting it to the bathroom to upchuck it all. You'd think being shipwrecked at sea without food would be a dandy solution to her problem: no need to eat anything much less barf it all back up. Come to think of it --- maybe that's why she survived when Meg, Mark and John didn't.

There she was, adrift, for days and days, without the temptation of hamburgers, or big fat juicy steak sandwiches, or a huge rich chocolate fudge sundae dripping with whipped cream, maraschino cherries and nuts. Instead, lost somewhere off of North Carolina in the barren, rolling seas, she was in a virtual feastless world, a paradise for your standard anorexic/bulimic.


--- Marie Winters


Body of Knowledge
One Semester of Gross Anatomy,
The Gateway to Becoming a Doctor

Steve Giegerich
(Scribner)
It's not a bad idea. Following a cadaver into medical school, watching over the shoulders of the students who will be dissecting it, and then go back in time to discover who it was --- the person who, during life, decided to donate his or her body to science. Giegerich has here done this and more.

And commendably, instead of picking some hotshot medical school, Johns Hopkins or Harvard or UC, he goes into the only medical school in New Jersey --- the University of Medicine and Dentistry, a school, that was set up in a run-down area in Newark, condemned by the state for the school construction (much to the irritation of those who lived in the area).

It's a great idea, it has great potential. But there is one botheration, as those of us who might live in the vicinity of the school would have it. That is: the author, and the way he puts his words together. He has all the credentials. He's a journalist. He was a runner-up for the Pulitzer in 1998. He even lives in Locust (Locust!) New Jersey. But his writing style --- how can we say this gently --- his writing style is all grody.

For one thing, he's very fond of dangling sentences, and the passive voice. You know about the passive voice?

    Circumspection had yet to enter the equation when Ivan returned to Table 26 with shears and hacksaw.

Or, in the dangle department:

    No one's idea of paradise even in its heyday as a mecca for Cuban expatriates, by the time the Gonzalezes turned up, little Havana was in a precipitous decline.

Or, ack,

    Keeping a promise to her mother that Ivan would be held to a degree of discipline in Miami proportionate to that meted out by Anna Maria in Managua, Maria Elena rode herd on her younger brother, enrolling him in an English as a Second Language course at the neighborhood elementary school within six weeks of his arrival.

You remember what our 10th Grade English teacher, the redoubtable Miss Ferris, would do with the first two? AWK! she would write in the margin. And for the last: like a caged raptor, AWK! AWK! AWK!

In addition, there are some other quirks that drive us up the wall, viz,

    A smile crossed Udele's face, her eyes softened, the ardor evaporated. Today was not about intensity; from personal experience, Udele knew there would be enough of that later.

Or,

    The Class of 2002 knew the time to obsess over what they were about to do to the essence of the cadavers' identity would come soon enough. But first they had a rendezvous with the seventh circle of medical school hell.

Dear Miss Ferris would underline that business about the face and the eyes, and write CLICHÉ. "Obsess?" She would write TRANSITIVE in large letters, so that we would know that the verb was merely a transit to the caboose "with." She probably wouldn't like that "rendezvous with hell" business much either. She didn't much cotton to authors who wanted to bring television language into the chalk-filled room at 203B.

If the language doesn't offend you, and if you want to know about the smell of the dissection room, and if the stuff oozing from a freshly cut cadaver (they pick it up with something called a "juice machine") doesn't make you want to toss your tacos --- then Body of Knowledge is the one for you. Meanwhile, let's see if we can get Geigerich a scholarship to New Jersey University of Medicine, Dentistry, and Composition --- so that the writing in his next book will be worthy of the subject.

--- Lolita Lark


African Journey
Pete Turner
(Graphis Press)
The moment we got this one we ripped it up: took a knife and hacked it to pieces, tore out the photographs of the springboks and the flamingos and the rhinos, the women in Zaire, the Kokerboom Forest at sunset in Namibia, the colorful houses of the Ndebele Tribe of the Transvaal, the public dances of the Zulu, the Xhosa women of the Transkei with their white masks and smoking pipes, the sandstone carvings at Merowe, the colossi of Ramses II at Abu Simbel --- in fact the entire 200 or so photographs with their riotous colors, their double spreads, their careful shadows and cropping.

We cut the book to pieces, and hung the pages around the house. Ramses went into the study, as did the Xhosa women with their white (and sometime scary) masks. The carvings at Merowe went into the kitchen over the stove, the springboks on the door of the refrigerator.

The green chameleon of Mozambique (with his incredible roving eye) hangs in the bathroom, next to the yawning hippo at Gorongosa. In the bedroom, on the far wall, the world's highest sand dune (Sossusvlei) --- looking like a fine abstract of yellow and black --- and over the bed, the aloe tree from Kokereboom Forest, along with a smiling lady from Mozambique. O yes --- to greet visitors, we mounted the sleeping dog surrounded by the gateway of the Ndebele home in the glass pane, with its black and white and yellow drawings of figurines and houses and rockets.

African Journey shies away from the ugly (except the required cheetah munching on the required corpse of the gazelle) --- so you might call it "romantic." The colors and the sharpness --- most of the photographs come from thirty and forty years ago --- put you right there. You are it. It is rich and fun and you could do worse to get one of these volumes for yourself and rip it to pieces.

--- Ignacio Schwartz
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