Saturday, May 24, 2008

Time Bandit

I love books that chronicle what people do for a living. I have read books on waiting tables, housecleaning, cooking at a five star restaurant and stripping. I enjoy reading about people who can describe what they do in a compelling manner.

Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand have done this for the world of commercial fishing on the Bering Sea. (Read: very dangerous and very cold.) I enjoyed the book and all the stories involved more than I thought I would, but I still struggled to finish the book. The novel is arranged around the framing device of one of the two brothers stranded at sea on a fishing boat awaiting rescue. The bulk of the chapters are from this lost fisherman’s point of view. A few others look at fishing from the rescuers viewpoint or from the view point of the other brother who is living in Indiana on his horse ranch. The beginning of most chapters is the brother talking about drifting alone on the sea and then moves into his stream of conscious thoughts and memories about fishing.

The stories are narrated as sort of fishing tall tales. Big men who do a big scary job make big money and get big drunk and get into big fights and go through wives and women like underwear. At first they were funny and interesting. I loved reading about the rules and regulations of commercial fishing, the way the crew worked for 96 hours in all kinds of horrid conditions to bring the catch in, how the boat and crew worked together, how the industry is regulated, the grocery expedition to stock the boat for the voyage, the mindset of a fisherman and how they built their boat with their dad. Many many of the tales were true and touching and fascinating.

After awhile though, I got tired of reading about the fistfights and the bars and the men they saved from freezing in the Bering sea. I think this points to the biggest problem with the narrative and that is the framing device. I think a better way to organize this account of fishing on the Bering Sea would be just to give me 12 chapters each organized around a part of the fisherman’s life. The slow meandering build-up to the fisherman’s rescue really took away from the rest of the story. I did not think for a minute that he would not be rescued. Better save that tale for one independent chapter.

All in all, I am glad to have met these two brothers and learned something more of the price they pay to bring fish to our tables. I realized at the end that these two men are featured in a Discovery Channel show called “The Deadliest Catch.” Check it out!

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