He had been a good man, but he did bad things. And sometimes bad men do good things. How do you deal with that?
Nick Dybek’s novel considers those questions. It portrays a young man living in a small fishing community, a painful decision he must make, and his coming of age to very fine effect.
The men of Loyalty Island sailed north every winter, to spend the winter catching fishing. It was dangerous, but it was how the community had survived and thrived for generations. One man had founded that community, had seen the possibilities, and the fishing fleet had passed down through that family ever since.
Cal’s father was a fisherman. He captained his ship and he worked closely with the owner of the fleet, John Gaunt. He had the respect of his peers, and of his son. But when Cal was fourteen years old things changed. John Gaunt died and his heir had little interest in the fishing fleet, or his family’s heritage. Ways of life that hadn’t changed for generations were under threat. One man held everything in his hands.
I’ve lived in a fishing community, I’ve worked in a harbourmaster’s office, and I recognised so much, every detail of the life, the characters, and the community rang true.
As I read I thought of real life counterparts to the Gaunts – father and son – and to Cal’s father. I would have liked to have seen more of the place, more of the people, but this is a very tightly focused and very tightly plotted book. And, on balance I think that was right, keeping the focus on an intriguing central storyline.
The fleet sailed and Cal made a discovery. He was forced to question his father’s actions for the first time, to learn that good men can do bad things, that life was much less certain than he had thought, and that he would have to make difficult decisions for himself. A huge decision faced him: a decision where the right thing to do would be the wrong thing for his family and his community. A perfectly balanced moral dilemma.
Cal tells his story some years later. His recollections are vivid, and he presents the characters, the relationship, his community wonderfully well. The style is simple, clear, and it suits the subject matter perfectly.
It illuminated the central questions, and it made the story quietly compelling.
I turned the pages quickly, and the story held me from the first page to the last.
Thank you Love Reading, for my copy of When Captain Flint was a Good Man