Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review: "When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man" by Nick Dybek

Loyalty Island in Washington State is ruled by the sea. Every fall, boats captained and crewed by Loyalty Islanders sail from the Olympic Peninsula up to the Bering Sea to spend the winter catching king crab. This is the industry that keeps the town and its businesses running, even as the threat of death at sea hangs over everyone. For Cal, whose father captains one of the boats, the sea and Alaska seem almost as mythical as the pirate stories his father used to tell him—but he also knows how the sea strains his parents' marriage, both when it keeps his father away, and when it brings him home.

The Gaunt family has owned the shipping fleet for several generations, but when John Gaunt suddenly dies, leaving the business in his estranged son Richard's hands, the future of Loyalty Island lies in the balance. Richard seems all-too-determined to sell the fleet, which would have major effects on the livelihood of not just those who work the boats, but those who run the town businesses as well. And when Cal discovers that his father may have taken a drastic step to save their way of life, he is forced to make a difficult choice—and determining which is the right choice is harder than anything he has ever had to do.

Nick Dybek's fantastic first novel, Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man, is a powerful story about relationships, about loyalty between fathers and sons, and about how the things that get left unsaid sometimes hurt more than things that are said. Dybek does a terrific job depicting characters who are forced to make choices we might not approve of, but we do understand their motivation to do so. While some of the details of the story Dybek leaves a little too vague for me, I found myself marveling over his use of language and the poetry of some of his sentences. This is a great read, and I hope this is the start of a long literary career for Nick Dybek.

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