Book #78: The Perfect Storm (1997)

IMG_3337-0Author: Sebastian Junger
Language: English
Length: 565 minutes (9 hours 25 minutes)
Finished listening on: 19 Nov 2014

I wasn’t sure what to think of this book after I’d finished. It was a bit of an oddball. It was about a massively powerful storm in the Atlantic during the 80s or early 90s, a storm that happened in real life and caused many fatalities.

For whatever reason, what sets it apart is that it sets out to literally be a true account of the storm, called perfect because it’s a rare combination of several meteorological phenomena that combine to make something exponentially larger. It focuses on one disappeared ship, the Andrea Gale. As it is trying to be a true account, it takes on a documentary or journalistic tone, and tries not to fictionalize too much.

One reason I can find for this is that the author is actually a journalist, and not a fiction author. The uncharitable side of me wants to say that he did this because he has no imagination, or that he is obsessive in the level of detail he put into the research. Perhaps a more pragmatic view would be that the level of complexity in the real life story would be difficult to capture in a fictionalized account.

Nevertheless, whatever the reason, sometimes I wished the book would get on with the story, rather than going into yet another dry chapter about the mechanics of sea fishing or the intricacies of compass use. These were mildly interesting sometimes, but mostly couldn’t hold my attention.

On a more minor note, the book starts off with a key, telling readers that bold text would indicate direct quotes, or italic text would indicate what the characters probably said… but this was entirely lost on me, the audiobook listener. The narrator didn’t even bother to adopt significantly different tones or get someone else to read the direct quotes. Part of me doesn’t really care, as it seems like an unnecessary detail, but the other part can’t help but feel I’m missing out.

All that said, the actual story was very interesting, when it got to it. I did actually enjoy some of the science-focused chapters as well, and I liked the epilogue read by the author, discussing how the book came to be, and how it was appreciated within fishing communities in the United States. Evidently by writing in the journalistic style, he’s managed to capture some essence that a fictional tale would not have, perhaps because he went into great detail about the daily grind of the fishermen.

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