The Perfect Wreck
Author: Steven E. Maffeo
Publisher: Fireship Press (2011)
Binding: Paperback, 382 pages
"This is the true story of the battle between the famous USS "Constitution" ("Old Ironsides"), and HMS "Java," in late 1812. It's told from the viewpoints of the officers and men whose story it is. It's also a narrative of the preceding four months when both of the ships, their captains, and their crews took infinite pains in preparation for their two diverse missions -- missions which then took each of them thousands of miles in adventurous blue-water sailing.
I've used a slight fictional treatment, trying to mix solid reporting with novelistic description in a scenic, dramatic fashion; but, I assure you that the sequence of events is accurate, the events are confirmed, and every named individual really existed. I've tried to entertain you with an incredible sea story while simultaneously handing you accurate, unequivocal history."
Steven Maffeo's The Perfect Wreck is a fictional retelling of a historic event -- the famous seabattle between the USS Constitution and the HMS Java -- aimed at audiences who might not open a scholarly tome on the subject. Constructed so that the reader gets a peek at the crews of each ship as they travel toward this confrontation. Maffeo let's his characters speak for themselves -- allowing us to understand their perspectives and the issues of the day that brought England and the United States to this second war in less than 100 years.
Certainly, anyone picking up a book like this has at least a rudamentary knowledge of the event -- however, unless you are a historian, the details are lost in the haze of some long ago high school lecture. For example, I knew that the two ships fought and that "Old Ironsides" (the USS Constitution) was victorious. That's like saying, I knew there was a ship called Titanic and it sank. Maffeo's buildup and then the telling of the fight engaged and excited me. I could feel the intensity of the struggle. Even though much of the seagoing lingo left me puzzled, it added to the "local color." I had no idea how two tall sailing ships maneuvered during battle...or how close they had to get to each other...or the kind of damage they could inflict. There's something terrifying about such activities in the middle of the ocean for a landlubber like me. And this book used that horror to good effect.
Everything about this book works together to create an environment for the reader -- from the cover art to the literary style to the illustrations and navyspeak of the early 19th Century. Maffeo's ambitious journey must have taken years of research and thought, but his industry and creativity pay off big in this wonderful novel.
Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2012)