OK, ladies, this is the book that forms one tentacle of the Deadliest Catch TV octopus. The TV version is a reality show following the exploits of the crew of an Alaskan Crab boat called Time Bandit, named after a Terry Gilliam movie in which the characters were threatened with the dire fate of being turned, if they weren't careful, into Hermit Crabs. (They made it sound like a bad thing!) But I digress.
This book, written by Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand with Malcolm McPherson, is less like a typical boring reality show and more like an introspective take on the Crabbing life, as these Bering Sea fishermen experience it. It was published in 2009 by Ballantine Books. The Hillstrand brothers take turns describing their lives and experiences as Alaskan Crab fisherman, plying the water in search of King Crab, Snow Crab and Baradai Crab, who live in the cold, cold, COLD waters of the Bering Sea.
CLIFFIE'S NOTES ON THIS GRIPPING READ:
>> JUST IGNORE ANDY. This guy, co-owner of Time Bandit and co-author of the book, has indeed been a fisherman all his life, but somehow he still doesn't GET IT. He actually says at one point that he can't decide which he likes better: the fishing life on the wilds of the Bering Sea or the humid flatness of Indiana, where he and his wife own a Horse business. He was raised to a life of Piscatorial Love but really has the soul of a cowboy. >>shudder<<
>> JOHNATHAN IS ANOTHER STORY. This guy -- as his brother Andy freely admits, with a touch of awe -- THIS GUY THINKS LIKE A FISH. He even THINKS LIKE A CRAB. This is what I like to read about! Every chapter written by this guy is full of love and respect for all things beneath the sea -- OK, love, respect, and TERROR. He is enough of a landfish to have been scared for life by seeing Jaws. But he is enough of a seafish to be able to know without being told -- at least without being told by a human -- where the Crabs will be waiting for him when he takes the boat out.
>> The level of superstitious dread in Johnathan's chapters is ENTIRELY PROPER in my eyes. He understands perfectly that he truckles daily with forces MUCH BIGGER than he is, and that for all his precautions and safety drills, DISASTER CAN STRIKE AT ANY MOMENT. He ponders the mysterious deaths of other fishermen he has known, realizing that according to Naked Ape hubris, these people should all still be alive with their boats on top of the water instead of underneath it. No wonder Jaws scared him so much -- this man is painfully aware that WHEN DAGON CALLS, YOU GOTTA GO. Witness that moment when he's stranded on a boat that won't steer, the engine dead, and he hears that Dido song on the radio about "going down with this ship." What does he do? He throws the radio overboard, he says, "as if it were a bomb."
>> He is also aware, not so painfully, that he lives within daily earshot of Dagon's call. Does he hide from that? No. Does he spend half his time in Indiana, playing at being a cowboy like his brother? No. He goes right back out of the ocean the next day, is what he does.
>> Johnathan Hillstrand knows which side of his bread is buttered. Here's a quote from page 9: "I live like a king, I believe, thanks to the blessings of wild Salmon." When he says this he has just gotten through talking lovingly about the pleasures of gill-netting for Sockeyes, whom he loves in an open, admiring way that makes his stance on the fish world unmistakable. He even aligns himslf openly with Sockeyes specifically, saying that they are the biggest, nicest, most beautiful fish of all and even though he can't make catching them pay for some reason, he doesn't even care; he loves them too much to stop.
>> There are a few other clues to where he stands: A) He has devoted his entire life to bringing fish and humans together any way he can. B) When he is not fishing commercially, he is quite likely to be found doing it solo, with a hook and line. C) His brother Andy, a co-owner of the boat and business, is often to be found barrel-riding in the Midwest, but not Johnathan; he is never away from the Alaskan coast for very long. D) He has brought at least one of his children into the business. There may be others warning up in the bullpen.
>> Above all, Johnathan knows very well that he is taking a terrible chance every time he goes out on the ocean, BUT HE DOES IT ANYWAY. He seems, alternately, to be TERRIFIED OUT OF HIS PANTS and basially OK with it. As he says philisophically at one point, "Shit happens when you party naked."
I want you to read this, ladies, to bask in the fellowship of someone you may never meet but who nevertheless THINKS LIKE WE DO.
WE'LL SEE YOU SOON, JOHNATHAN.