by Sebastian Junger
© 1997 W.W Norton & Company. Inc. New York, London
Reviewed by Sarah Kourkoulis

In case anyone who saw the movie wants to read the book, it’s important to remember that while the story that inspired Sebastian Junger to write The Perfect Storm was certainly gripping, the book wasn’t just about the Andrea Gail and the men who died aboard ship. It’s about the storm, and the sea, and how together they affected the lives of everyone around the Grand Banks that October night. It’s about swordfishing, and weather systems, and tragic deaths, and heroic rescues. And it was one of the best books I’ve ever read.

What convinced me to read this was Junger’s absolute standard that he wasn’t going to fictionalize any aspect of the story. A few pages at the beginning explained how he struggled to write a factual account of the Andrea Gail, and how he was going to present his information. Such attention to facts was enough to reassure me that he wouldn’t attempt to describe the deaths of the men aboard the Andrea Gail with graphic detail, because there is no way to know exactly what happened.

After that, he introduces the men: Billy Tyne, Bobby Shatford, Dale Murphy, Bugsy Moran, Alfred Pierre, and David Sullivan. He introduces swordfishing itself, explaining techniques, equipment, routine, prices. He introduces the Andrea Gail, giving us her specifications, limitations, capabilities, reputation. And he introduces us to the Grand Banks, the Georges Banks, the Gloucester community, and the weather systems that affect them.

And that’s just the first chapter.

It takes off from there. The story itself is captivating, but Junger’s background as a journalist is evident in the way that he intersperses facts and lore into the narrative. He has researched this exhaustively, and yet he’s able to relay his findings in layman’s terms. Weather systems are suddenly less mysterious after he explains them. (I actually started to understand what the weathermen were talking about when they said “jet stream”, “cold front” and “storm system”!) The entire process of swordfishing is explained, in all of it’s danger and doldrums.

I have always enjoyed the ocean and the incredible vastness of it. For all of man’s technology, we haven’t been able to tame it, and this book only confirmed that once again. I was amazed at the descriptions of rogue waves, unpredictable walls of up to 100 feet of water, that can crash into a boat in a storm. Junger managed to re-create the storm in all of its fury and unpredictableness. In fact, that’s where the book gets its name: This storm could not have been any worse than it was. In the meteoro-logical sense, it was “perfect”.

It’s important to know that the people in the book have not been sanitized. In some cases, they use language that could be termed “vulgar”, but it’s part of who they are. Junger has attempted to give us an accurate representation of these folks, not changing what they did or said as much as possible. He also explain the details of a drowning death, which is one of many dangers of working aboard ship, that is described in much the same tone that a doctor might use in describing the dangers of undergoing a major operation: the truth, spoken with kindness and concern, but not sugar coated, lest we think it’s easier than it is.

Copyright 2014