Nick Dybek‘s debut is about fathers and sons, villains and heroes.
The Granta New Voices program highlights six debut authors each year. Dybek became a Granta New Voice in December, and there is an excellent, extensive interview on their site about his novel. He shares this, “In children’s books the villains are usually doomed while the heroes make it to the end; in Treasure Island, for example, the reader knows Jim Hawkins will survive because he’s telling the story, but there’s no such guarantee for John Silver. It’s Silver that you need to fear for. Perhaps because of this, I was always more interested in the villains than the heroes when I was a kid. I imagined Cal, the narrator, to be similarly fascinated by the villains of Treasure Island, by the tension they produce whenever they step on the page.”
Later in the interview, asked about other influences, he mentions going “back to a couple of classic memoirs about adolescence, This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff and Stop-Time by Frank Conroy.” Granta also offers an extensive excerpt from the novel.
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man is on Oprah’s list of 17 Books to Watch for in April.
Adult/High School–Loyalty Island, home to 15-year-old Cal Bolling, is a dark and murky place off the Olympic Peninsula where his father operates a crabbing boat for the local fleet owned by John Gaunt. When Gaunt suddenly dies and his cynical and unpredictable son, Richard, decides to sell the business, the livelihood of the entire island is threatened. But before the sale, Richard inexplicably decides to join the fleet in Alaska and is lost overboard. It is a tragedy that doesn’t greatly upset the families of the island who will now continue to have work. Cal, however, soon discovers that Richard is alive, chained up in the basement of Cal’s own house. He and his best friend, whose fathers are involved in the kidnapping, visit Richard even as they keep his existence secret. Cal grew up on stories of the pirate Captain Flint, who murdered his own crew after they buried chests of gold for him in Treasure Island. Just as he rooted for the doomed pirates in Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale, Cal wants Richard to somehow survive. Should the boys free him before the fleet returns and he is likely to be murdered? Should they protect the secret and save the legendary industry of Loyalty Island? It is an excruciating moral dilemma that tests their friendship, their conscience, and their allegiance to their families. Teens will appreciate the Goonies-like friendship and banter between Cal and his friend; lovers of Treasure Island will enjoy the parallels to that classic tale of murderous greed.–John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY