My Online Prose Portfolio

"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


The Perfect Storm

By Sebastian Junger
W.W. Norton & Company, 227 pp, 1997

I know, I know, I'm a tad late in reading this book, which spent eons on the bestseller list and spawned the movie by the same name. I did see the movie (after it came out on video) and thought it was okay. The book is always better, especially in this case.

Junger uses an increasingly popular medium to tell this true story: creative non-fiction. More than just telling a story or stating facts, creative non-fiction uses fictional elements, such as theme, foreshadowing, and dialogue, to tell a true story in a novel-like manner. 

The author faces two choices in writing creative non-fiction. He can inject himself in the story or leave himself out of it. Those who involve themselves usually relate some kind of journey or quest they've accomplished, or immersed themselves in an unusual or interesting situation. They tell what's going on while relating their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions.

Junger chooses the second method in The Perfect Storm. Nowhere does he appear in the story. He doesn't write about his visits to the Crow's Nest or with survivors. He simply gives us the facts, and when the facts are lacking, plausible scenarios.

But the book is much more than that. Junger provides informative and fascinating accounts of the commercial fishing industry, the town of Gloucester, life on a fishing boat, and the gory details of death by drowning. As a native landlubber who's never sailed on the ocean and visited the Pacific coast only a handful of times, I enjoyed reading about that.

But the true star is the storm itself, and this is where Junger shines. He weaves the factual account with comments by survivors into a compelling and riveting story of survival against the elements. After reading of 100-foot waves and 100-mph winds, I must admit I'm in no hurry to get out on the ocean. Land seems much safer.

This book deserved its bestseller status.

Back to Book Reviews