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
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.