American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

HERSEY, JOHN [RICHARD] (1914-1993). The prolific author John Hersey was born in China and moved to the United States in 1925, when his family decided to return. He was educated at Yale and Cambridge Universities and served for a time as secretary to Sinclair Lewis before becoming a journalist. Hersey wrote two maritime novels. Under the Eye of the Storm (1967) examines the marriages and the lives of two married couples on a small sailing yacht during a magnificently portrayed hurricane in the coastal waters of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Hersey’s less-known A Single Pebble (1956) is set on a junk being towed up the Yangtze River in the 1920s. Old Pebble is leader of the work gang hauling the junk and its occupants up the river against a rising spring current. He sings songs of the river and classical operatic arias to inspire his crew in their work and to cover the noise of their groans. The story is narrated by the only passenger, a young American engineer who is weakened in body and mind by dysentery and by a crush on the comely young wife of the vessel’s owner. He is on his way up the river to plan the destruction of the natural navigational hazards that create the very challenges that make Old Pebble’s life meaningful.

Blues (1987), the national best-seller that won for Hersey the Pulitzer Prize, is an extended fictional conversation between a “fisherman” and a “stranger” who are fishing for bluefish off the coast of Cape Cod.* The pair converse philosophically about interconnections between humankind and the natural world and discuss fishing lore and the metaphysics of fishing. Good recipes are included in the book, as well as poems by John Ciardi, James Merrill, Robert Penn Warren, and Elizabeth Bishop.*

Hersey published Key West Tales (1993) the year he died. The book is a collection of fifteen tales, including factual reportage and fiction, that present vignettes of famous or fictional people who lived in Key West* and a tapestry of life on the island. In the final years of his life, Hersey and his wife divided their time between Key West and Martha’s Vineyard.

James F. Millinger and Jill B. Gidmark