(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Sebastian Junger is the author of The Perfect Storm, yet he is also in many ways the main character. He is part of the story, as he recognizes to his discomfort: not really a journalist in his own mind but rather "just a guy with a pen and paper and an idea for a book." While Junger is a first person presence in the foreword and afterword, he is also very much present throughout, unapologetically taking the reader aside on digressions to explain the dynamics of waves, the physics of storms, and the physiology of drowning. He is overtly uncomfortable about his standing in Gloucester: he is an outsider, he has never fished, and he is intruding on the lives and grief of real people, whose misery he will write about for all the world to read. Even worse, neither Junger nor anyone else knows what happened in the last hours to the Andrea Gail, and thus the climax of the book, the fulfillment of its opening promise stimulated by the sinking of the fishing boat off Georges Bank in 1896, to answer the question, "How do men act on a sinking ship?", must be pure speculation. Fictional characters can be made to run a gamut of literary emotions, but what is the protocol when the men were real and family members still mourn them? Junger builds credibility with his ethical punctiliousness and restraint, repeating "undoubtedly" and "maybe" as the case requires when actions and feelings must be inferred, and further by establishing his own thoroughness and familiarity with fishing practices, equipment, and situations through researched information. His self-evident respect for the particular families and the people of Gloucester in general is admirable, a restraint unusual in an age when journalists encourage victims to vent their emotions while they are still in shock and when irresponsible speculation is the order of many news reports. Junger avoids both emotional voyeurism and speculation unfounded in scientific and technological fact. Junger the character, then, comes across not as a researcher nearly obsessed with finding the truth, but one with a firm moral sense about boundaries he must not cross.

Billy Tyne is somewhat mysterious since as the captain he is the ultimate decision- maker responsible for the fate of the Andrea Gail. But Junger has few land-based close relatives who can give insight into his thinking. Tyne is a Gloucester boy who grew up in non-fishing work settings, yet became a whole-hearted competitor when he went to sea. His less-than-stellar performance at finding fish on the Andrea Gail's previous trip perhaps provokes his aggressive search on the final, fatal trip, with forays into fishing grounds at the limits of safety given the time of year. He is the key figure in the failure of the Andrea Gail to survive, for even trivial, harmless decisions might have built on each other pyramid-like to seal the fate of the boat. However, as Junger is at pains to point out, the last hours of captain and crew are sealed in mystery, and perhaps a freak wave drove the boat past the point of recovery. Words like "perhaps" and are used to describe Billy Tyne's thoughts and acts, emphasizing the speculative nature of Junger's reconstruction of events. Nevertheless, Tyne comes across favorably, as a true Gloucester fisherman, who will do all within his power to return his crew to land safely. The reader inevitably identifies with Tyne's predicament, and thus feels his loss more deeply than that of the other men on the boat, who have fairly passive roles once the storm begins to rage.

Bobby Shatford and, to a lesser degree, his mother, Ethel, who works behind the bar at the Crow's Nest where Bobby drinks and sometimes stays, come into sharper focus as fully rounded characters in the literary sense. Ethel was Junger's first...

(The entire section is 1541 words.)