The accuracy of the nonfiction book by Sebastian Junger has been called into question

By Matthew Flamm
September 05, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT
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In the foreword to his new best-seller, The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger writes that he sticks ”strictly to the facts, but in as wide-ranging a way as possible.” Junger was referring to the challenge of recreating the sinking of the fishing vessel Andrea Gail, which left no survivors or witnesses. But like ”nonfiction” chroniclers John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and Lorenzo Carcaterra (Sleepers), Junger now faces questions about his work’s authenticity: According to a recent article in The New York Observer, his account of 1991’s Halloween gale and the boats that were caught in it is ”a fish story awash in errors.”

The Observer found fault with Junger’s contention that alterations to the Andrea Gail had undermined its stability. The piece also defended Ray Leonard, skipper of the sailboat Satori, who was rescued by the Coast Guard and whom Junger depicts as an incompetent sailor. ”Everybody was convinced that the Satori was doomed [and Junger has] written a book to show that, but it’s patently untrue,” says Leonard, who may sue the author. Leonard points out that the Satori eventually washed up onshore undamaged — a fact not mentioned in The Perfect Storm. His main complaint, however, is that Junger never spoke to him.

Junger responds that he wanted to interview Leonard but was unable to find him; instead he relied on crew member Karen Stimpson, whose account ”was completely consistent with the Coast Guard’s.” Junger also notes that Leonard’s rescue ”was only a small part of the book”; nonetheless, he does plan to interview him for the paperback edition. Concerning the Andrea Gail‘s stability, Junger says all his information came from depositions taken by the attorney for some of the victims’ families. He also emphasizes that his book concludes it was the storm, and nothing more, that made the boat go down.

Villard editor in chief David Rosenthal, for one, thinks the Observer piece won’t affect Storm‘s sales (it’s now No. 2 on the charts): ”You have an extremely well-written book on a subject that has captivated people,” he says. If past controversies are any gauge, Junger needn’t worry: Critics accused Carcaterra of getting big and little details wrong in Sleepers, and Berendt even admitted massaging some facts in Midnight. Still, both books remained near the top of the charts.

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