Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > The Caine Mutiny

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
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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...

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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 Aurora Dawnand 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.

USSHamiltonbasisfortheCaine
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 Nicholas Monsarrat,James Jones, John Hersey, and Irwin Shawto 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.

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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.

MayWynn
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.

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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!
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Reading Progress

July 16, 2012 – Started Reading
July 16, 2012 – Shelved
July 20, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-41 of 41 (41 new)

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message 1: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Good lawsy me, Jeffrey! Do I get a lit-crit college credit for that careful contextualization of book, film, and creators within the cultural matrix of post-WWII Murrika?

Kinda creepy that the actress kept the character's name, though I'm not all the way sure why I'm goosepimply about it.


Jeffrey Keeten Richard wrote: "Good lawsy me, Jeffrey! Do I get a lit-crit college credit for that careful contextualization of book, film, and creators within the cultural matrix of post-WWII Murrika?

Kinda creepy that the act..."


Now where did a posh East Coast gentleman such as your self ever hear the term Murrika? haha that is a term not heard much North of the Mason Dixon line. I'm glad the review came together. I always feel like I bite off more than I can chew.

I agree about the actress. In fact that is why I stuck it in the review because I thought it was a really odd factoid.


message 3: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Thirty-nine cumulative years in Texas is *highly* educational.


message 4: by Duffy (new)

Duffy Pratt This is one of those books that I haven't read precisely because the movie was so good that I'm afraid the book would spoil it. Especially great is the performance of Jose Ferrer as the defense lawyer. Your review may have convinced me that I need to take a look.


Jeffrey Keeten Duffy wrote: "This is one of those books that I haven't read precisely because the movie was so good that I'm afraid the book would spoil it. Especially great is the performance of Jose Ferrer as the defense la..."

Thanks Duffy! I'm on the other side of the coin. I want to watch the movie, but the book was so good. I do think I'm going to wait a few months before watching the movie.


Lawyer Sullivan, rolling his pair of ball bearings, wondering who stole the damn strawberries. Excellent review. THE WWII list should include "The Naked and the Dead," "The Young Lions," John Hersey's "Into the Valley," and "Hiroshima." You gotta hit "The Cruel Sea." And everything that James Jones wrote. Everything. "Catch-22." And deciding which ones not to read is a real Catch-22. There is also a sequel to "A Separate Peace (your review was excellent by the way) that you would love as a follow up. That is all. Tonight's movie is "Run Silent, Run Deep." Oh, yeah, you need to throw that one in, too. That is all until I undoubtedly remember more. *Koff*


Jeffrey Keeten Mike wrote: "Sullivan, rolling his pair of ball bearings, wondering who stole the damn strawberries. Excellent review. THE WWII list should include "The Naked and the Dead," "The Young Lions," John Hersey's "..."

I've read The Naked and the Dead and Catch-22 though I feel 22 needs a reread. I've added the rest to my reading list. Thanks friend. I am so glad you liked this review and my "A Separate Peace" review. It means a lot knowing a pro like you sees merit in my reviews. I think these old 1950s war novels are going to be a helluva a lot of fun.


Lawyer Jeffrey wrote: "Mike wrote: "Sullivan, rolling his pair of ball bearings, wondering who stole the damn strawberries. Excellent review. THE WWII list should include "The Naked and the Dead," "The Young Lions," Jo..."

You know something? It's been so many years since I read these, I don't believe I've even listed them as a part of my shelves. If I were called upon to write a review of any one of them right now, I couldn't do it. But I know that each one of them made a powerful impression on me when I originally read them. The interesting thing about them, with the exception of "Catch-22," perhaps is how different in tone they are from the literature produced by the Vietnam War. Oh, yes, you will find elements of irony and futility and men like Queeg, but there is an overwhelming sense of we went to a war without question, without cynicism, and as Studs Terkel correctly said, it was "The Good War," if it is possible to ever call war such a thing.


message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 21, 2012 04:52PM) (new)

Great Review, Jeffrey. I read Caine Mutiny in the 11th Grade after I had already discovered The Winds of Warand War and Remembrance .Wouk books were like Michener for those who love WWII. I enjoyed the perspective of Wouk on professional officers who are there in times of war and in times of peace. I think the ending challenged some of my persepctives. I also recommend .Once An Eaglefor people who like books that are on reading lists for professional military officers.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Great Review, Jeffrey. I read Caine Mutiny in the 11th Grade after I had already discovered The Winds of Warand War and Remembrance .Wouk books were like Michener for those who love WWII. I enjoye..."

Thanks Steve! I enjoyed this better than the Michener I read last year. I would bet this is less bloated than his later novels. Thanks for the recommend I haven't heard of that book. I added it to my list. I hope your trip to NYC was a blast.


Shannon All those pics seem to be suggesting we see the movie. ;)


Jeffrey Keeten StoryTellerShannon wrote: "All those pics seem to be suggesting we see the movie. ;)"

Well I'm sorry that I gave that impression. This site is called goodreads not goodwatching. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm sure it is good. I try to always read a book before I see a movie based on the book. I do like black and white photographs and maybe I put too many in this review obscuring how really good the book is. Any book that makes me think about "what would I do" gets the nod from me.


Shannon If you enjoyed the book the movie is certainly worth a look.


message 14: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Phew, am i out of it! Although i've heard of the Caine mutiny, i haven't read the book or seen the movie!

I was also going to add the Cruel Sea as a suggestion, please be a luv and read it soon so you can tell me all about it? :D

Wonderful review as usual. Lots of work in there.


Jeffrey Keeten Traveller wrote: "Phew, am i out of it! Although i've heard of the Caine mutiny, i haven't read the book or seen the movie!

I was also going to add the Cruel Sea as a suggestion, please be a luv and read it soon ..."


Yes, I intend to look for Cruel Sea my next jaunt down to the library. I'm only a half a step ahead of you on The Caine Mutiny. I was looking for something else and saw a lurid yellow rebound at the library with those soft pages from so many fingers flipping pages, one of those impulsive decisions that turned out well. I sometimes feel like these old library books are national treasures showing "the love" of all those readings.

Thanks for noticing the extra work. I sometimes feel like I'm fighting a " sea battle" myself pulling all the information I wish to convey together into something coherent and yet not epic in length.


message 16: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Jeffrey wrote: "I sometimes feel like I'm fighting a " sea battle" myself pulling all the information I wish to convey together into something coherent and yet not epic in length."

Yes, it's strangely difficult to keep reviews short when you've done some 'extra work' on it.

I still need to learn how to cull/contract my content effectively. I understand 100% why authors need to have editors who can be brutal enough to cut chunks out of their precious little babies. It's hard enough to do it with reviews; - what a murderous task when you have to cut chunks out of your own fiction.


Philip Yes indeed, Herman Wouk is still with us at 97, and has a new novel, THE LAWGIVER, which will be released about two weeks from now. I've already read it and enjoyed it very much - it was surprisingly cutting-edge! Back in the mid-90s I wrote to Herman Wouk, as well as to Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, and Saul Bellow, and they graciously allowed me to send books to be signed. Wouk is now the only one left of that generation of writers for whom WWII was a major influence in their lives and on their writing, and who dominated American Fiction for decades thereafter.


Jeffrey Keeten Philip wrote: "Yes indeed, Herman Wouk is still with us at 97, and has a new novel, THE LAWGIVER, which will be released about two weeks from now. I've already read it and enjoyed it very much - it was surprisin..."
I still do that with writers. Recently Nicholas Basbanes was more than generous signing a box full of books for me and sending along some unexpected ephemeral when he returned the books to me. I'm sure I would be very envious of your book collection. I just ordered a first of Youngblood Hawke and can't wait to dig in. A few days ago I started The Young Lions another writer from that era I've never read. Thanks for commenting.


Philip I read YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE in the early 1970s, enjoyed it very much. Had Thomas Wolfe, Aline Bernstein and Maxwell E. Perkins been still alive, I doubt he'd have written it, or at least made an attempt to blur their identities more. And like many girls who grew up in the late 1950s and the 1960s, my older sister had a copy of MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR - that's probably where I first encountered Wouk's name.


Julie Mr. Jeffrey,

Any chance I might bribe you into writing my thesis? Your review is so thorough, I'm sure you'll do just as outstanding a job on my thesis!

Please? I throw in some homemade cookies!!!


Jeffrey Keeten Julie wrote: "Mr. Jeffrey,

Any chance I might bribe you into writing my thesis? Your review is so thorough, I'm sure you'll do just as outstanding a job on my thesis!

Please? I throw in some homemade cook..."


Now your talking...homemade cookies might just swing this deal. haha Thank you for the high praise. I'm sure your thesis is in very capable hands. Out of curiosity what is the topic?

If you like WW2 novels I wrote a review of Young Lions by Irwin Shaw recently that ties in with this book simply because it is also considered one of the four great WW2 novels. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


message 22: by Cathy (new)

Cathy DuPont Jeff:

What a great review and remember the book, oh so many years ago.

I like B/W photos a lot so glad they're included. Check out the pants on May! I'm fond of sidebars so the info on May (Donna) or Donna (May) was interesting as was the printing history.

And ask for milk with that cookie offer from Julie! I'm curious too, the topic. Julie? Inquiring minds want to know...


Jeffrey Keeten Joyce wrote: "Terrific review, as always. In terms of Donna, rather than find it creepy, I always felt it was somewhat sad. She never went very far. However, much as I liked this book, and my (nostalgic) favori..."

Thanks Joyce. I knew you would get a kick out of it. I just picked up a copy of Youngblood Hawke and it will be my next Wouk. I would bet I will have the same problems with his politics as well with his later books.


Jeffrey Keeten Cathy wrote: "Jeff:

What a great review and remember the book, oh so many years ago.

I like B/W photos a lot so glad they're included. Check out the pants on May! I'm fond of sidebars so the info on May ..."


I adore old photographs. I have a lot of old ones of my relatives and whenever I see old b&W pics in antique stores I have to resist buying them. I had a story in mind at one time to write about a guy that built a whole family history out of pictures found in flea markets and yard sales.

I absolutely love Donna's stripped pants.


message 25: by Kerr (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kerr Smith Jeffrey, nicely done. I highly recommend the following WWII novels: The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw; The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer; and Arch of Triumph, A Time to Love, A Time to Die, both by Erich Maria Remarque. Enjoy.


Jeffrey Keeten Kerr wrote: "Jeffrey, nicely done. I highly recommend the following WWII novels: The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw; The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer; and Arch of Triumph, A Time to Love, A Time to Die, both by Er..."

Thanks Kerr I will definitely read those recommendations.


message 27: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan Rice Jeffrey, re Wouk's still being alive, I had a similar reaction upon finding the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still with us. Wouk, though, is still writing novels. I read one of the more recent ones, although it wasn't up to his former standards. I think he has another one on the way!


Jeffrey Keeten Jan wrote: "Jeffrey, re Wouk's still being alive, I had a similar reaction upon finding the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still with us. Wouk, though, is still writing novels. I read one of the more recent one..."

I used to be in City Lights Bookstore a lot. I met Ferlinghetti a couple of times. What a legend. I don't think any of us expect him to write up to his old standards, but the fact that Wouk is still writing is remarkable.


message 29: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan Rice Jeffrey wrote: "...I used to be in City Lights Bookstore a lot. I met Ferlinghetti a couple of times. What a legend. I don't think any of us expect him to write up to his old standards, but the fact that Wouk is still writing is remarkable."

Of course I didn't have the advantage of meeting Ferlinghetti. For me he represented somewhere long, long ago and far, far away, so, now, a living icon.

In terms of reading WWII or post-WWII movies and Wouk, I can recommendThe Winds of War and its sequel, War and Remembrance, by Wouk. I loved them! As with The Caine Mutiny, they were filmed, but in this case, two mini-series, in '83 and '88, respectively. ...Back when I was still watching TV. ...A phenomenon; inspired me to read the books.


message 30: by Tea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tea Jovanović Wouk is brilliant and luckily for us managed to celebrate his 100th birthday and is still writting... He deserves to be more reprinted worldwide...


message 31: by lauren ;-) (new)

lauren ;-) havnt read it.


Jeffrey Keeten Tea wrote: "Wouk is brilliant and luckily for us managed to celebrate his 100th birthday and is still writting... He deserves to be more reprinted worldwide..."

I've got so many to read. Youngblood Hawke will be the next one for me.


message 33: by Tea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tea Jovanović Jeffrey wrote: "Tea wrote: "Wouk is brilliant and luckily for us managed to celebrate his 100th birthday and is still writting... He deserves to be more reprinted worldwide..."

I've got so many to read. [book:You..."
You have to read all of his books... :))) (And Leon Uris' books as well)... :))))


Jeffrey Keeten Tea wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Tea wrote: "Wouk is brilliant and luckily for us managed to celebrate his 100th birthday and is still writting... He deserves to be more reprinted worldwide..."

I've got so many to..."


Uris is also on my list. I've got Topaz. I've been wanting to read it ever since I saw the Hitchcock film.


message 35: by Tea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tea Jovanović Jeffrey wrote: "Tea wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Tea wrote: "Wouk is brilliant and luckily for us managed to celebrate his 100th birthday and is still writting... He deserves to be more reprinted worldwide..."

I've go..."
Trinity and Exodus should be among the first ones to be read...


Jeffrey Keeten Tea wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Tea wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Tea wrote: "Wouk is brilliant and luckily for us managed to celebrate his 100th birthday and is still writting... He deserves to be more reprinted worldw..."

Of course they should and I will read them in due course. I have Topaz in my hands though...a quick read. You know what they say about the bird in the hand. :-) My purpose is because of the Hitchcock connection I can do a duel review of movie and book.


message 37: by Tea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tea Jovanović :)


message 38: by Vessey (new)

Vessey 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.

They say that war brings out the best and the worst out of people. Good to know that the young man found his way. :) Thank you so much for another exceptional review. :)


message 39: by Raj (new) - rated it 5 stars

Raj Kundalia The last paragraph confused me, can you please tell me the mystery behind it?

The paragraph was:
Torn paper was flying in the air over the victorious marchers; and now and then a scrap drifted down and brushed the face of the last captain of the Caine.


message 40: by Raj (new) - rated it 5 stars

Raj Kundalia The last paragraph confused me, can you please tell me the mystery behind it?

The paragraph was:
Torn paper was flying in the air over the victorious marchers; and now and then a scrap drifted down and brushed the face of the last captain of the Caine.


message 41: by Raj (new) - rated it 5 stars

Raj Kundalia The last paragraph confused me, can you please tell me the mystery behind it?

The paragraph was:
Torn paper was flying in the air over the victorious marchers; and now and then a scrap drifted down and brushed the face of the last captain of the Caine.


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