Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review: Time Bandit by Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand

Late last spring (i.e. "before blog"), I was privileged to receive an early reading copy of Time Bandit written by Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand in collaboration with Malcolm MacPherson.  The only thing in my ho-hum life that connects with this book is that I love to eat crabs.  Living in Japan, the only access I have to the TV series is via YouTube, so the book was a nice diversion.

My review follows:

There is no question that Time Bandit finds an eager audience among fans of the American TV show “Deadliest Catch,” but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book stands up well on its own as an entertaining and informative read. The brothers Hillstrand have a pirate’s lode of great fishing stories, but the book doesn’t stop there. They are also admirably candid about their personal histories and the tough issues they deal with on land (families, obligations, personal demons, compliance with fishing regulations, outfitting for the next fishing run, hiring/firing crew, etc). 

The first and dominant voice in the narrative is Johnathan Hillstrand whose delivery struck me as egotistical and arrogant to the point that I almost didn’t stick around to give the book a chance--but I’m glad I did. After all, the book opens with the “bad boy of the Bering Sea” perilously adrift and alone, and even if he does seem a bit full of himself, I wanted to see how he would get out of his dire predicament. His situation is life-threatening and serves as the literary means to reflect on his life--kind of a slow-motion version of seeing your lifetime pass before your eyes before you die. Thus unfolds Johnathan’s entertaining story, reminiscences of his life, interspersed with the narrative of his brother Andy and the fellow fishermen who eventually rescue him. 

At first, I thought the writing style was too unpolished and the tone overbearingly arrogant but as I got to “know” Johnathan better, and then his brother Andy, I decided to cut them some slack. After all, if fishermen were born to be writers, they wouldn’t be fishermen, and vice versa (with the exception of Linda Greenlaw). Thankfully, the authors had the good sense to enlist the help of seasoned writer Malcolm MacPherson who I presume is responsible for creating a cohesive work from two lifetimes of harrowing stories. More effort in that direction would have further improved the book. 

I give this book praise for being entertaining. Tales of near death, living on the edge, the roughness of life on land and sea gave me a great escape into a world I could never approach in my real life. I take points off for the literary weakness of the book which is apparently aimed at the established TV audience as a “mixed media” marketing effort. When the TV show eventually ends and the DVD market is sated, the book will not have enough literary quality to sustain it as a book alone. 

Sharing similarities with Time Bandit in ocean-going subject matter, here are a few recommendations which have more substance as literary works: The Hungry Ocean and The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, Hen Frigates by Joan Druett, Cod by Mark Kurlansky. 

I offer these comments with thanks to publisher Ballantine Books and LibraryThing for this advance reading copy.A slightly edited version of this review is posted on LibraryThing.  

(click "my reviews" at the following link)

No comments: