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Sea State

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2022

a Scottish oil rig in the North Sea

This morning, I randomly ran across this New Yorker review of a memoir by Tabitha Lasley called Sea State. I couldn’t stop reading it, this review, and went down a rabbit hole of other reviews of the book: the NY Times, the Guardian, and the London Review of Books.

After losing four years of progress on a novel, Lasley’s work on Sea State began when she visited Aberdeen, Scotland to research what life is like for oil rig workers, saying she “wanted to see what men were like with no women around”. And then, more or less immediately, she started a relationship with one of her (married) subjects.

Lasley’s first interviewee is an offshore worker from Teesside, an area that was once a hub of steel and chemical manufacturing. Caden has clear blue eyes, a jockey’s body, and tattoos of the names of his wife and twin daughters. He likes the gym, ironing, the autobiographies of Mafia dons, and bio-pics about soccer hooligans. Lasley spots him at an airport, where his kit bag — a kind of waterproof duffel, designed in accordance with helicopter requirements — gives him away. She approaches him, explains her project, and asks for his contact details. Caden demurs, but gives her number to a friend, who invites her to a pub with a group of fellow-riggers. Afterward, Lasley invites Caden to her hotel. Within weeks, he’s skiving off family life to sleep with Lasley in airport hotel rooms, laying the blame on the state of the sea — too rough for the chopper to take off — for not being able to make it home.

Now involved and “around”, Lasley turned the book into a hybrid: personal memoir + a class-oriented look at the concentrated masculinity of life aboard oil rigs. And somehow, according to the reviews, this actually works. Fascinating!