Georges Bank is a nineteenth century tale of determination and survival.
Maggie O’Grady, a bright but naïve Irish immigrant, is impregnated and discarded in a brothel by her first employer in the New World, a rich Boston merchant. Maggie struggles, and with the help of the women around her, raises her son and eventually finds love with a fisherman.
Georges Bank is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, home to Kipling’s Captains Courageous and Junger’s Perfect Storm, in the days of sail during and after the Civil War. Thousands of Gloucester fishermen died at sea during that time — fighting in the trenches of war was safer than fishing on Georges and the other offshore fishing banks. Life was perilous for those left ashore as well, where the widows and their daughters, left with no legitimate means of support, were sometimes forced into lives of prostitution to survive.
The book climaxes with a wrongful death trial brought by the widows and children of two fishermen killed in a winter storm on a boat insured by the Boston merchant. Maggie’s son, by then a young lawyer, represents the widows. The trial presents a sobering look at the American justice system, its entanglement with the interests of the rich, and the harsh consequences of that inequity for the least powerful among us.
Georges Bank is a rip-roaring good story. The all-too-short lives of the fishermen are realistically portrayed, but so is the romance of a life lived at sea. The plight of the desperate women left behind is realistically shown as well. But there is kindness amidst the violence. By and large, they band together, sometimes in relationships that must be kept secret due to the norms of the time, and they persevere.
Finally, this is the story of a woman who refuses to be a victim, who fights and strives and overcomes.