When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man by Nick Dybek
I received an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.
This is a story told by 14-year-old Cal, who lives with his parents in the fishing community of Loyalty Island, Washington. I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age story and I was not disappointed by this one. I finally stayed up late last night to finish it, eager to find out how it ends.
It’s a poignant and rather sad story about a difficult life and difficult decisions. Cal’s father is away on the fishing boat for half the year and his mother retreats to her music room to listen to her vast collection of records, leaving Cal largely on his own. When his father returns home at the end of the season, he returns to a family that has carried on without him, to a son who is at the age where children grow and change quickly. Every year, Cal and his father must become reacquainted. Cal’s mother goes into the music room in the basement and closes the door, closing out her family and shutting off communication. Cal lies on the floor above, ear pressed to the heating vent, listening to his mother’s music. Even though his mother doesn’t leave the house, she is as absent as his father.
The people of Loyalty Island depend on the fishing season for their livelihood, and the fleet is owned by John Gaunt. His sudden death throws them all into uncertainty. John’s son, Richard, is an unknown factor. All anyone knows of him is that he’s never been out with the fleet and that he only occasionally shows up in Loyalty Island. They know they don’t like him. The uncertainty makes them afraid. His lack of direction makes them afraid. When he announces he’s selling the fleet, it sets off an awful chain of events.
When everything they know is threatened, what extreme measures are people capable of carrying out? Could you believe your father capable of murder? We get to know Richard as Cal gets to know him and in many ways, Richard’s story is Cal’s story, only more advanced. I expected Cal to relate to Richard, which made his final decision more surprising and puzzling.
Although Richard has spent very little of his adult life in Loyalty Island, his impact on the people of this small community is tremendous, and his impact on the life of Cal is indelible, changing his life forever.
I liked the way this story was told. Was it overly prosaic? Probably, but for me the style of the writing seemed to fit the setting and the story being told. There were, in my opinion, a lot of unanswered questions. There is apparently a relationship between John Gaunt and Cal’s mother, but it’s never clarified, nor is it ever explained why the relationship is important to the story. There is an acknowledgment by Cal, in his storytelling, that there is an elephant in the room; like every figurative elephant in the room, everyone ignores its presence. These people are not champions of communication or talking about how they feel. As a result, the questions remain unanswered because in order to answer them, Cal’s mother and father would actually have to talk to him, as he is the story teller. Even so, I was lost in the storytelling and finally couldn’t put it down, even though it was late and I was nodding off to sleep – I thought about putting it down and finishing it in the morning, but I couldn’t.
At a price of $12.99 for the Kindle edition, I never would’ve read this book if I hadn’t received it in a giveaway. I enjoyed reading the book, but can’t recommend it at the current pricing. It’s currently available only in the e-book version and hardback, which is priced at $17.43. If you want to read this book, I suggest waiting until some used print copies are available at a lower price, or request that your local library get it.