When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man
Every fall, the men of Loyalty Island sail from the Olympic Peninsula up to the Bering Sea to spend the winter catching king crab. Their dangerous occupation keeps food on the table but constantly threatens to leave empty seats around it.
To Cal, Alaska remains as mythical and mysterious as Treasure Island, and the stories his father returns with are as mesmerizing as those he once invented about Captain Flint before he turned pirate. But while Cal is too young to accompany his father, he is old enough to know that everything depends on the fate of those few boats thousands of miles to the north. He is also old enough to feel the tension between his parents over whether he will follow in his father's footsteps. And old enough to wonder about his mother's relationship with John Gaunt, owner of the fleet.
Then Gaunt dies suddenly, leaving the business in the hands of his son, who seems intent on selling away the fishermen's livelihood. Soon Cal stumbles on evidence that his father may have taken extreme measures to salvage their way of life. As winter comes on, his suspicions deepening and his moral compass shattered, he is forced to make a terrible choice.
-Jaimy Gordon, author of Lord of Misrule
"An authentic, atmospheric, coming-of-age story with a painful dilemma . . . A terrific debut."
-C. J. Box, author of Back of Beyond
"Robert Louis Stevenson would be proud of Nick Dybek. . . . He delivers a page-turner full of danger, secrets, and betrayals."
-Stewart O'Nan, author of Emily, Alone
"Part mystery, part lament, part coming-of-age drama, this novel will stay with you long after you turn the last page. . . . Fascinating and powerful."
-Daniel Alarcón, author of Lost City Radio
"An engrossing and exacting moral thriller."
-Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl
"I was grateful to experience full-tilt insomnia, reading Nick Dybek's splendid, haunting, When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man. . . . I love this novel."
-Howard Norman, author of What Is Left the Daughter
"Nick Dybek grabs hold of both your imagination and your conscience, and won't let them rest."
-Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles
On Writing a First Novel, by Nick Dybek
When I was twenty-two, I moved from Michigan to rural Mississippi. I lived alone, in a tiny room above an eccentric couple’s garage. Every morning, the mechanical lock on the double security doors of Bolivar Correctional Facility buzzed me through to teach literature to inmates.
My students hated To Kill a Mockingbird (we don’t have to read about this, one of them pointed out), but they loved Lord of the Flies. Naively, I attributed their enthusiasm to the novel’s resonance with their circumstances. But what really appealed to them was the island, the ocean, the sand, the jungle; they liked occupying an entirely imagined place.
I have to admit I took the job in part because to give myself something other than my stable Midwestern upbringing to write about. But I failed miserably at fiction that year. It became clear that I wouldn’t be able to write anything a reader would want to escape into if I restricted myself to the things I saw and heard each day, to material that was still – only – my own.
When I did discover a story I wanted to tell, I didn’t find it in my life, or in any real life. I read Shakespeare’s Richard II for the first time in my apartment above the garage, and the image of a deposed king sitting in prison, listening to mysterious music, stuck in my mind. That image, invented hundreds of years before by someone else, led easily to other images, images I invented without intending to. As I began to trust the power of invention—to let myself imagine a family, a community, an economy unlike any I had known—I had the outline of a narrative.
I spent part of the next summer traveling through the Olympic Peninsula and found myself wondering: what would my characters make of this place? I decided to set the book there, and moved out to Washington state. But now, as I imagined those characters in an unfamiliar setting, details from my own life found their way into the narrative, unforced. What had so recently seemed the trappings of an uninspiring existence—my parents’ huge record collection, my childhood obsession with Treasure Island, family stories about suitcases packed with broken jars and pickled animal parts—came newly alive.
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