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July 30, 2002

Found art
Posted by Teresa at 09:46 AM *

This is an anonymous reader review, posted on Amazon, of Ghosts of the Titanic by James Cameron and Charles R. Pellegrino (nonfiction, 304 pp., William Morrow & Co., 2000).

*****Quirky, but in a good way, October 8, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from New York City

Pellegrino’s endnotes get a bit long, becoming whole chapters even after the book itself is supposed to have ended. But these little stories behind the story, including the fates of various Titanic survivors, explorers, and survivors of the exploration are worth trudging through (like Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”) and had the author started the story itself with thank-yous to the teachers who helped a child wo could not read at all to the extent that he would eventually WRITE books and be doing science for a living, I would have thought it a little self-indulgent in a Titanic book and best left for what must be another fascinating book all by itself. There must be a life lesson in it. Same with the story of his sorrow after his wife left, which is also in his acknowledgements section and which also seems to be given as a life lesson. Anyone would understand the devastation: “How could the night get any darker? I had asked, never guessing, during my pity party for one, that what served for the moment as the defining tragedy of my life was in fact saving me from a rather broader definition of tragedy.” The point he makes is that the worst news he thought he could ever receive was causing him to change his plans to be on an airplane crash which no one survived. Those few sentences saved my son from watching a bitter divorse continue to get worse when I realized that the message of the missed plane, and the message of the Titanic, was that by a quirk of fate my boy might never know his daddy at all, so I made peace with my ex and I guess that message has never been made more clear than by all those orphans created by the New York and Washington bombings of September 11. I do have to say that the most boring parts of the book taught me more about rust and rusticles than I ever wanted to know, but while an article about that stuff would have been interesting in Discover magazine all by itself, it was boring in this book only by comparison to all the information about how the drunken cook became the only man on the stern to keep his balance, how the grand stairway floated up through the crystal dome, and how the Californian just stood seven miles away and watched the Titanic sink, how (with detailed drawings)minute by minute the ship filled and broke apart and how its parts slammed inti the bottom of the ocean at close to 40 miles an hour, and through it all you really feel like you are there. You feel it because you really get to know the people who were there and to feel it through them. No one writes like that. Or maybe not anymore. After Pelligrino missed the plane crash he moved to New York and he is still missing there since September 11, so it’s all quirks of chance, isn’t it?

There’s a logic to the piece that would be more apparent with standard paragraph breaks, and punctuation to set off quoted material, but I like the way its run-in paragraphing turns it into a single complex meditation on life lived in the shadow of random chance.

Towards the end the reviewer’s attention bends back around to a fascinated contemplation of the details of the disaster: one man’s strange chancy survival; parts of the ship crashing through another; the Titanic’s sequential disintegration and high-speed passage downward to finally bury itself in the ground.

Look again at the location and date of the review.

Comments on Found art:
#1 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2002, 06:01 PM:

This is lovely. Every time I thought it was starting to make sense, it would free-associate away.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2002, 10:00 PM:

Janet, I typed out a reply to you, then decided to append it to the original post.

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