Literary Fiction

Formerly, The Sea Trials of the Unfortunate Sailor




About the Book

A psychological and, at times, poignantly humorous drama set on a U.S. warship in the port city of Yokosuka, Japan, INSIDE THE SKIN is a story about the harsh realities of navy life during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era. But it’s more than that — it is also a story about each of us and how we perceive and interpret the world around us. Written with a narrative starkness, the story leaves us with only our own prejudices and stereotypes to draw from and forces us to make assumptions about character and identity, and, in the end, determine not just who did it but if it was even done at all…

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Boot Camp didn’t join the navy to be a hero or to perform courageous acts—that was hardly his character—he joined simply to prove to himself, and to others, that he has what it takes to be a sailor, a real sailor.

However, after reporting to his first duty station, a laid-up warship filled with a disgruntled crew who welcomes him aboard with a brutal hazing and violent displays of homophobia and harassment, he quickly learns that to become that sailor of his ideals, a real sailor, he would have to step outside his true nature and put himself into harm’s way to achieve those ideals.

But after Flavor—Boot Camp’s only true shipmate and an eccentric nonconformist who, himself, had to learn to navigate the dangerous and sometimes deadly waters of homophobia and harassment—is discharged from the navy, Boot Camp is left on his own to face the hazards that await him.

Alone, he has to find that courage and strength so uncommon to him and stand up for his own self, his own identity, and fight for what is right, regardless the rules, and regardless how dangerous and deadly the costs may be.

5 thoughts on “INSIDE THE SKIN”

  1. Kurt, intentionally or not, you have drawn me out. Might I recommend here to all of your followers that they do read your novel The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor and that they might find my reasons for their doing so here ( A condensed version that I produced after reading Amazon’s recommendations will appear on that site. I might add that I enjoyed writing the review.

    • One might think it a tough business, being the book reviewer, writing about books that most people haven’t read and in such a way as to compel them one way or another, to read or not to read. But it continues to be done, and done well by a few above class reviewers even in this tweet-infested age. In the past I mostly read, predictably I’m sure, the NYT reviews; however, after she went behind a paywall her reviews have since been lost to me. Happily I found Michael Dirda’s reviews at the Washington Post, through, ironically enough, twitter. And while there are many, many reviewers and review sites out there – and occasionally I’ll read their reviews. But mostly, when in the mood, or when I’m preparing myself to write a review of my own, I read Dirda’s reviews. He writes so well and it appears he has read and is able to draw from just about every book imaginable, and he can bring those two very fine attributes together into a magical synergistic moment of literary revelation. Your style is of the Dirda style, Paul. Fine writing coupled with deep knowledge to make a most magical and memorable literary moment. I enjoyed reading your review very much, not just because it was a discussion of my work, but because it was written so well and with so much thought and interest. Thank you.

  2. Kurt Brindley’s achievement in The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor comes into even greater focus when looked at through the lens of Herman Melville’s classic novel Billy Budd, Sailor, its proper literary antecedent.

    The travails of Brindley’s protagonist condemned for his sensitivities in ways fundamentally at odds with his true identity arise from a tellingly different perspective than those of Melville’s hero who falls beneath a similar fate.

    When Brindley’s sailor becomes fixated by the “beauty” of one of his fellows all while trying to find his place in a patently homophobic environment as a “straight” if extraordinarily self-conscious individual of ungainly physical appearance, he is obviously on dangerous ground from the get-go. Unlike Billy Budd, the “Handsome Sailor [who] … seemed to accept the spontaneous homage of his shipmates,” Brindley’s seaman is the recipient of groundless antipathy. The object of his admiration makes himself blindingly clear: “If I ever catch you looking at me again, I will fucking destroy you.” Where Billy Budd is celebrated – “[a] young Adam before the Fall,” Brindley’s protagonist remains nameless but for his humble acceptance of “Boot” as his handle.

    Melville adorns his sailor with the epithets “handsome” and “beautiful.” His shipmates venerate him not only for his skills but also for his physical presence. According to his admirer, Billy Budd’s modern counterpart looks “like one of those perfect underwear models found in magazines.” Where Melville’s novel localizes the operative malevolence in “some peculiar human creature the direct reverse of a saint,” Brindley exposes it as having escaped into the body politic with its “beautiful sailor” as the blind agent for all of the enmity. An inversion has occurred: protagonist and antagonist – hero and villain – have switched roles and ruptured the universal celebration of the human being that permeated Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor.

    Billy Budd goes willingly when “impressed” from a ship named “The Rights of Man.” More than two hundred years later these same rights have yet to be codified and one finds a modern naval crew divided against itself.

    The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor rightly celebrates those persons who overcome the dehumanizing enmity directed their way by stubbornly and courageously owning their differences. “I want to look so good that heads turn when I walk by. I want everyone on this planet to want me, to desire me, to think about me when their eyes are closed,” proclaims one – dressed to kill – on shore leave.

    Brindley’s spare seamless writing style gives authentic voice to the various crew members of today’s American naval ship. At the same time, it is a meditative prose that sustains its lightness of touch when it focuses on details: “Her skin was white, so white that it seemed to glow in the dark bar, and looked as soft and smooth as freshly risen cream.” That The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor advances Melville’s narrative to today’s conditions is its further achievement.

  3. Brindley’s portrayal of the “sea trials” and life experiences of an “unfortunate sailor” immerse the reader in environments unfamiliar to most. Depictions of the conflicts between gays and straights, life aboard ship and visits to foreign ports are all vividly told. These environments may leave the reader uncomfortable, but allow the reader the opportunity to broaden their thoughts on the totality of the human race. As the “unfortunate sailor” attempts to assimilate to life at sea he is faced with many challenges. Faced with various physical and emotional issues “Boot Camp” is exposed to both the kindness of other humans and the cruelty humans can inflict on others. Courage, Ignorance, prejudice, power madness, personal identity and other traits of the human condition are explored.

    Four stars. Review Title: Change is really hard.

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