In Rolf Yngve’s new short story collection, ‘Dog Watches’, the Sea is the antagonist that rocks and rolls otherwise ordinary men and women into tumultuous and extraordinary circumstances.
I met Rolf at the War, Literature and Arts Conference held this fall at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. (I think he was impressed because I pronounced his last name correctly, haha.) I’m also a Minnesotan, as he’s from the town across the lake from me- so it was a great pleasure to meet him.
The first story, ‘A Prerogative’, and how it ties to to the last, ‘Pointed Fair’, made me gasp, slam the book shut, and throw it across the room. It’s just that good.
In ‘Efendim’, we’re on the edge of our seats watching the delicate back and forth not just between the American negotiator and Somali teenaged pirate, but between the negotiator and the Turkish interpreter. Here’s an excerpt:
“He would carry a rosary in his pocket ever after, track it with his fingers, just as the interpreter touches beads he keeps in his pocket to praise Allah, and the negotiator rubs a pink cancer bracelet to let the memory of his wife calm him. Just as the as the chief engineer in the white interior of the orange lifeboat twists his wedding ring to think of his children, their pictures long away on the ship that had left him and just as Amir tickles the safety of his derelict gun on and off, watching.”
Many of the characters appearing throughout are female Navy officers and enlisted, and they’re treated respectfully, sometimes tenderly, but with brutally harsh reality.
In ‘The Hour of Letdown’, the Executive Commander (XO), is a strong woman who guides the ship away from disaster, and safely gets the helicopter back on board. The captain commends her “Great job, XO. Great. You saved our asses today, Jennifer.” Then, like her, I felt the harsh punch in the gut as she overhears another officer’s words behind her back, “Well, at least the Toad didn’t try to bitch me out. I’da had to kiss her and turn her into a prince”, and the junior officers squealed and giggled.”
Yes, no matter how competent, skillful and talented a woman may be, an off-hand comment from a man about her looks is enough to cut her off at the knees. And a beautiful woman knows just a light touch with a fingertip can make a man weak in the knees. That’s just the way it goes. And it will never change.
Throughout the book, Rolf does this magical thing where the story is told in 3rd person, but a 1st person narrator steps in and it works perfectly. When he does that, it’s a reassurance that we’re not in this alone-that there’s a higher hand guiding us.
Much of the book reminds me of the tightrope we walk while navigating our relationships, whether in the workplace with superiors or subordinates, in the military or in our family. For me, I relate to this tightrope theme as a mother, and the torture I feel before I say something to my teenager who screams back at me, or to the other one who nods, but never really answers.
More often than not, it’s not the right thing to say. But that’s life, imperfect. We’re imperfect, and Rolf reassures us it’s okay to be so.
The cover image was developed from an official photograph of a US Navy destroyer retrieving a lifeboat after a hostage rescue. The original is a U.S Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Megan E. Sindelar, USMC, released and distributed by the US Navy Visual News Service.
About the Author:
After being drafted into the Army early in 1970, Rolf managed to talk the Navy into taking him instead and went on active duty in 1971.
Thirty-five years later, he retired from the Navy after holding ranks from seamen to Captain. Serving first as a quartermaster (an enlisted assistant to the ship's navigator), he became a surface warfare officer after commissioning through the Navy Enlisted Scientific Education Program (NESEP)
He also commanded the destroyer, USS Oldendorf DD-972, served as the US Defense Attaché to Rome, in the Pentagon, and deployed overseas with eleven different ships and staffs in support of naval operations on thirteen different occasions.
Rolf studied writing at the University of Utah, Old Dominion University and completed an MFA in fiction through the Warren Wilson MFA for Writers Program.
His work is anthologized in Best American Short Stories, 1979, Sudden Fiction and others. More recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclipse, Glimmer Train, The Chattahoochee Review, the War Literature and the Arts Journal, The Kenyon Review, The Common, Five Points, ZZYZVA, and others.
His novel, Any Watch They Keep, and memoir, Sea of Ash, seek publication through representation by Henry Thayer at Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents, Inc.