In her midthirties and newly free from a terrible relationship, Tabitha Lasley quit her job at a London magazine, packed her bags, and poured her savings into a six-month lease on an apartment in Aberdeen, Scotland. She decided to make good on a long-deferred idea for a book about oil rigs and the men who work on them. Why oil rigs? She wanted to see what men were like with no women around. In Aberdeen, Tabitha became deeply entrenched in the world of roughnecks, a teeming subculture rich with brawls, hard labor, competition, and the deepest friendships imaginable. The longer she stayed, the more she found her presence had a destabilizing effect on the men—and her.
Sea State is...a mixture of journalism, chronicling the sociological, financial and more immediately physical issues faced by the men...as well as the effect this work has on their wives, families and the wider society ... It’s also a highly personal account of living on the fringes of one’s own life, in what could be described as a prolonged moment of crisis (while also being, regularly, laugh-out-loud-funny) ... What sets Lasley apart as a genuinely exceptional writer is her ability to first spot, and then effectively relay, the small yet defining details of a person, scene or experience ... Her eye for usually imperceptible minutiae is especially sharp when it comes to the physical and linguistic cues that pass between the sexes, along with the inexorable conditions of their interrelations ... Sea State is contemporary writing at its finest, without any hint of effort, egoism or pretentiousness on Lasley’s part. She is an astoundingly good writer, and this is an astoundingly good book.
If many autofictionists are interior writers with all the lights on, mansions of subjective quirks, Lasley is the whole street, with a much more connected sense of other people. She takes for granted an unapologetic tone we used only to associate with male writers ... The men, too, are deracinated, and Sea State reveals something of the inner lives of these lost beings. It’s strange to find such a mixture, and it’s devastatingly effective in this slow-paced, issue-facing memoir ... How far would you go for a story? How far would you go to be a story? Lasley throws herself into her task with the kind of energy that rises from mania like steam. I never stopped admiring her, and the sentences just get better, but what the fuck? ... She has the skill, a Joan Didion kind of skill, of inflecting non-fiction material subjectively, a habit of assessing situations via her nervous system ... (I almost wrote ‘novel’, because Sea State has all the presentness of fiction, as well as the exactitude of the non-fiction novel and the gleam of confession) ... You can feel you have traveled full circle by the end of this book, a journey that locks you into a world and makes you feel its weight. No matter how true the story happens to be, Lansley is a ghost of her own experience, haunting the rooms in her mind where it did and didn’t happen. She conjures an industry and a place, but much more than that, she shows us the men themselves, and their relation to her, a mysterious tale of love and fear. The single thing we can know for sure, as she leaves the city, is that there must be a book, and only she can write it.
Sea State is part reportage, part memoir, and the collision of the two is initially discombobulating – one moment the author is reflecting on the grotesque failures that led to the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, which killed 167, and the next she is trying to take a photo of her breasts to send Caden on his third week offshore. It nonetheless builds a grey-hued portrait of a ruthless industry, a dour city and a breed of man who thinks nothing of calling a woman a whore for putting her hand on a man’s arm in a pub, and is shocked when she tries to buy a round of drinks ... Lasley’s methods for meeting her subjects are unorthodox, and her capacity for recklessness quite breathtaking ... The cold facts of this rarefied job hit hard, but so do the social observations gleaned in a fog of drunken chatter ... Sea State is, itself, a hybrid of sorts: an investigation that is also a confession but reads a lot like a novel. It is a startlingly original study of love, masculinity and the cost of a profession that few outside of it can truly understand. The cost to Lasley herself is yet to be revealed.