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Book Review: The Perfect Storm: A True Story Of Men Against The Sea by Sebastian Junger

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The Halloween Storm of 1991 was a notorious example of the cruel indifference of nature. When all was said and done, all six members of the Andrea Gail were missing and presumed dead. Three independent weather systems combined for a storm that occurs only once every hundred years. Gale force winds and a number of rogue waves brought on by the cataclysm of a hurricane and Nor’Easter pounded and tortured the swordfish boat. While some had hailed Georges Bank as the most dangerous fishing grounds in the world, I do not think anyone on the Andrea Gail expected to die this way. I found this novel very haunting and found myself very angry at the end. These men had wives, girlfriends, mother, fathers…In general, all had friends and families that needed them and they left them behind upon their demise.

This book really made me feel horrible for the victims’ families and friends.The victims did not just simply die — they disappeared off the face of the earth completely and were never properly laid to rest. This is why the event has been heralded as “The Shipwrecked Story No One Survived to Tell”. To be honest, that statement itself is incredibly haunting. The camaraderie of the fishermen is very well documented. The statement “and that a bartender put the money away for safekeeping says a lot about how fishermen chose their bars” (Junger, p.19) tells me that this is a close knit community.

As someone who has lost a parent, I know how hard it is for families when they lose a father. I know firsthand how hard that experience is — it took years of therapy and reflection to truly deal with my father’s death. However, I feel lucky that my father was properly laid to rest and that my family had the closure that I can imagine these families yearn for. I personally could not imagine how it must feel to never truly know if your father is dead — even if the circumstances are the most hostile towards human life that one can imagine.

I found myself very angry with the companies that backed these fishing expeditions due to their lack of concern about human life. Even though it has been heralded as “a storm that could not possibly have been worse.” they decided to try to sail back to risk losing their catch since their ice machine broke as the storm developed near the coast. Quotes like “For 150 years, Georges, off the coast of Cape Cod, had been the breadbasket of New England fishing” (Junger, p. 22) and “When the Hannah Boden unloads her catch in Gloucester, swordfish prices plummet halfway across the world” (Junger, p. 36) show just how long the tradition of fishing has been a part of New England’s economy and history. From cod to swordfish, fishing has fueled the economy for many years.

Granted, the industry carries a high risk of industry, death and profit alike. However, how informed were the fishermen of this? I am sure these men were not educated and did not know that, as workers, they have rights to a safe workplace. These men were simply raised with the expectation that they would become fishermen, instead of having options to better themselves. While I respect anyone who makes an honest, legal living, so few people realize their potential and I find that very sad. While I know that blue-collar workers are essential for any economy to thrive, I feel that one should have a choice instead of feeling pressured or pre-destined to become fishermen out of necessity.

However, the money and respect probably made a deadly job very appealing. “The shoulder muscles that resulted from a lifetime of such work made fishermen recognizable on the street. They were called ‘hand-liners’ and people got out of their way” (Junger, p. 26) shows that these men were respected. There is also the possibility that the mere fact that they had their own riches (even if only for a short time) enticed them to face a very likely and possible death.

I also found it interesting that premonitions drove two crew members to walk away from what was supposed to be a very lucrative fishing expedition. The passage eerily explains what some would consider to be a lucky phenomenon: “People often get premonitions when they do jobs that could get them killed, and in commercial fishing — still one of the most dangerous pursuits in the country — people get premonitions all the time. The trick is knowing when to listen to them” (Junger, p.37-38). I am glad that these men chose to think of their families first instead of laying their lives on the line for fish.

The thought that — even in such a modern and supposedly advanced age — a boat can disappear in the Atlantic and leave behind only a few oil drums and radio equipment is very haunting. I was honestly shocked that no one even tried to find the wreckage. In all honesty, I was angry that it seemed that most of these men went to an almost certain death and seemed more valuable dead than alive. While this is a great read, I was still disturbed that more was not done for their safety.

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About Kate Derringer Barclay

Kate Derringer Barclay is the pseudonym of a freelance writer and blogger. Kate Derringer Barclay is also working on her first book.