So, the time has come to review someone I probably didn’t think I’d be reviewing when I started the blog-Herman Melville and his naval book White-Jacket.
Now, I’ve used the term “Herman Melville for _______” to describe fiction that is overly descriptive at the expense of other things , ie “Team Yankee occasionally devolves into Herman Melville for tanks”. Thus, White Jacket is Herman Melville for Herman Melville. To be fair a lot of 19th century novels are like that, it’s just the writing style of the time, but Melville particularly stands out.
Even at the time, Melville didn’t think very highly of this book, viewing it as something done purely for the money. Even a century and a half apart, I can see the reasoning “Ok, I need a book done, I’ll just slightly fictionalize my experience in the US Navy and send it to the printers.”
White-Jacket, in spite of its clunkiness, manages to stand out for two reasons. The first is its historical value in the life of a 19th century sailor and the operations of the US Navy at the time. The second is that yes, it’s realistic. You want a truly realistic military story, something like this with modern technology is what you’re going to get. I’ve said only part-jokingly that a truly realistic military video game wouldn’t be ARMA , it’d be Desert Bus. This is why I’m not a stickler for realism in literature.