Review: When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man, by Nick Dybek

When Captain Flint Was
StillA Good Man

by Nick Dybek
Riverhead Hardcover
April 12, 2012
320 pgs
Modelled after Robert Louis Stevenson's morally ambiguous Treasure Island, Nick Dybek's debut novel When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man centers around a modern day Jim Hawkins named Cal whose father, an emotional stranger to him, makes his living fishing off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea. The title is an allusion to Captain Flint, the pirate captain whose treasure is sought in Stevenson's book. When Cal was younger, and his father would be home only a few months of the year, they would read Treasure Island together and then invent stories of what Captain Flint may have been like before he embarked on a life of piracy, debauchery and murder.

Cal has spent all of his fourteen years living on the fictional and symbolically named Loyalty Island, in a community that relies entirely on the king crab season. When the Island's wealthy patriarch John Gaunt dies suddenly, and the fishing business (all of it, the boats, the tarps, the nets, the pots, everything) are willed to his son Richard, the men of the community band together to ensure that the season will commence as it always has. When it does, Cal is left behind as usual.

But this time it's different. This time, the men of Loyalty Island have left behind a secret which, if discovered, will tear the community apart. As anyone familiar with Jim Hawkins' eavesdropping ways may have predicted, Cal discovers that secret, and the period that follows this discovery is a nicely crafted coming of age story.

The imagery in Dybek's prose is hauntingly beautiful, and his incorporation of music and musicality in the story definitely lend themselves to that beauty. Sometimes the metaphors are a bit overwrought, and at other times the presence of the author can be a bit much. We're meant to understand that Cal is telling this story from many years after the events of the novel, but sometimes it comes across more as Dybek telling the story than anyone who might have lived it. That said, Dybek's storytelling skills seem to come naturally and remind this reader that some stories are never just stories.


  1. Sounds like my sort of read. Another on the wish-list!


Post a Comment

Any and all feedback is welcome - thanks for taking the time!

Popular Posts