Moran Of The Lady Letty

Moran of the Lady LettyMoran of the Lady Letty by Frank Norris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of one Wilbur Ross, a San Francisco socialite with a penchant for slumming with the natives. It was that penchant that got him into trouble, or what seemed to be trouble at the time. Drugged and shanghaied, he was taken aboard a shark hunting vessel, a la Humphrey from Jack London’s Sea Wolf. The difference between the two was that Humphrey desperately needed testosterone; Ross desperately wanted it. This story could easily have ended within the first 10 pages. All Ross had to do is jump overboard before they ever left San Francisco, and it’s unlikely the brute of a captain (who had just punched him out) would have pursued him. But Ross didn’t jump; he desperately wanted something he didn’t have, and somewhere in recesses of his mind this was the road, or the course if you will.

As foul as the captain was, he took a liking to Wilbur Ross, much as Larsen took a liking to Humphrey in the Sea Wolf, the difference being Larsen enjoyed the battle of wits and Captain Kitchell was welcoming the wits he didn’t have. His witlessness was evinced when they spotted a derelict as they were shark fishing one day. The ship, The Lady Letty, was abandoned except for the dead captain and his nearly lifeless daughter Moran, a butch, viking woman that turned on Wilbur in a way no other woman had. Did I mention he had a penchant for slumming?

Captain Kitchell’s greed cost him his life. While looting the beleagured Lady Letty, it suddenly capsized and sank, taking Kitchell down with her. Now it was just Wilbur and Moran, along with some Chinese sailors that comprised the crew of the shark hunting schooner. The plan was to hi-tail it back to San Francisco, but the Chinese crew had other plans. They had an employer that expected them to hunt sharks, so for the time being, Wilbur and Moran commanded a ship they could not leave.

Without going over the rest of the story, I can say that it was an exciting sea adventure story, marred only by the annoying broken English of the Chinese sailors, or coolies as they were offensively referred to. It nearly cost a rating star, but the story was otherwise so good that I could overlook faux bad accents and the 1890’s racism to a degree. Of course, as far as the racism goes, we only get one view of that, although it was pretty clear that the Chinese didn’t care for whitey at all in this story. Whether that was race based distaste or not, we’ll never know; the story is fiction.

In the end, Wilbur did find what he was looking for, but in order to keep it, he would have to abandon the world he knew. But then, maybe the world he was abandoning wasn’t his to start with. He was at a crossroads in his life and at least for the time being, made his decision. Will we ever know how he ultimately ended up? Did his adventure chronicled in this story change him forever, or was it just a fling as one of his friends suggested near the end of the book? We might have guessed as we neared the end of the story, but with an ending that I never saw coming, it’s hard to say. Clearly, Wilbur never saw it either.

Good story; better than I thought it would be.

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