In today’s inaugural installment of Ben’s Book Club, I will be discussing Sea Wolf, by Jack London.
I’m not sure how I made it this far into my life without reading anything by Jack London, but I’m making up for lost time now. This dude was the real deal. By the time London was 21 he had already logged time as a pirate, became disaffected with piracy, and then joined an anti-pirate task force in order to fight against his pirate ex-pals (true story, even if it all had to do with oyster-related piracy). Meanwhile, here in the 21st century, we feel we are accomplishing something if we hear a rumor that our temp jobs may turn into something full-time if we play our cards right.
Fuck the 21st century.
Anyway, after a whole slew of ridiculous life adventures (pirate-related and otherwise), London started writing like a madman. Sea Wolf came on the heels of the massively successful Call of the Wild, and is still one of his most widely-read books. The protagonist is a man by the name of Humphrey Van Weyden, a dandy man of letters who has never had to do any real work in his life (the early 20th-century equivalent of a dude in a Williamsburg coffee shop with Feist on the headphones and his nose buried in the new issue of Believer). Well, Humphrey’s world is quickly turned upside down after he is marooned in a boat wreck and picked up by the sailing ship Ghost.
The captain of the Ghost, Wolf Larsen, is the ultimate badass. He’s self-educated and deeply intelligent, but the only joy he derives from life is through complete domination of his fellow man. He will fucking kill you, just to see the look on your face as you pass on to oblivion. And why not? Kill or be killed, that’s the way he looks at things. That’s the way it is in the animal world, and as Eminem once said: “We ain’t nothin’ but mammals.”
After the Ghost picks up Humphrey from a near-certain drowning death, Wolf puts him to work as a cabin boy. Hump, as he becomes known as, must quickly adjust to the brutal life of a sailor, and the inscrutable whims of his mercurial captain. Wolf takes advantage of Humphrey’s education to engage him in philosophical debates on the nature of mankind, which would be insufferable if the arguments occurred in a vacuum. But they don’t – the constant and numbing violence that is a huge part of life on the Ghost serves as the backdrop for these discussions. So it’s totally fun to read, and very dramatic, with an air of malevolent doom hanging over everything. If this book was a rock album, it would be, like, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
I won’t bore anyone with the twist and turns of the plot, except to say this: like the 2007 Mets, it completely collapsed in the home stretch. An exceedingly implausible love interest comes into the story, and the action moves from the Ghost to a previously uninhabited island before wrapping back up with a too-tidy-to-be-satisfactory ending.
But the parts of Sea Wolf that were good were really fucking good, so this book still gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me, Ben (the only Lolabrigada member who knows how to read).
p.s. – “Wolf Larsen” would be a great name for a band, if there weren’t already 76 active bands that had “Wolf” in the title (including, of course, Sea Wolf). But Wolf has a brother who is named – no joke – Death Larsen.
It goes without saying that Death Larsen would be an awesome band name. Make it happen, musicians.