River Queens by Alexander Watson – Book Review
River Queens by Alexander Watson – Book Review
Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America
Author – Alexander Watson
Publisher – Orange Frazer Pr
Pages – 320
Released – 17th October 2018
ISBN-13 – 978-1939710857
Format – hardcover
Reviewer – Clive
Rating – 3.5 Stars
I received a free copy of this book
The river-any river-is another planet, with its own language, rules, and culture. River Queens is a story of the unlikeliest of fellows (and a dog) coming to the river-and what happens to them once they arrive. At first glance, it seems to be a how-to manual for any adventuresome (but perhaps foolhardy) type who’s ever thought of restoring a wooden yacht and sailing it halfway across the country. Second glance, however, shows that it’s a classic travel narrative in which two intrepid (but perhaps foolhardy) explorers head out to tour what is usually called “a distant, alien world.”
To Alexander Watson and his partner, Dale Harris, the river is as exotic as any foreign locale they’d previously traversed. There is danger, of course- unpredictable nature, lurking water hazards, quickly rising human squalls but the initial difficulty is language: can they become fluent in the argot of harbourmasters, helmsmen, navigators, and the various deck hands, skippers, and swabbies?
The language of river people is gloriously colourful and idiosyncratic, and Watson has a gift for capturing it. River talk is the animated essence of River Queens, in which these typically hard-working people are rendered so specifically, in all their salty humanity, that they become a kind of tribe, passing Watson and Harris along from outpost to outpost, encumbered by their hospitality.
This is the genius of River Queens, in which Watson’s sensibility is so adroit that he captures perfectly the two sides of America that seem elsewhere on permanent outs. Here on the river, though, they become assembled in a near-perfect unity, displaying a charity that seems to be missing on the inland geography. With happy authority and never a condescending glance (well, only where one is deserved), Captain Watson gives us a striking, often hilarious picture of river life, elevating its savvy inhabitants into the first rank of admirable Americans and showing us finally how little divided America actually can be.
River Queens is at once a romance of men and the river, a fantasy come to life, an unparalleled adventure story, one of the best travel journals around and a glad picture for our turbulent times.
I was delighted to be sent a manuscript copy of ‘River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America’ prior to publication. It was comb-bound, A4, double-line-spaced with a few underlined or italicised sections. I felt privileged, especially as Alexander Watson had specifically suggested that the book might appeal to me.
At that stage the proposed title was River Queens: An American Journey which I considered adequate but the revised title suggests that he either has sequels in mind or is just keen to attract as many internet hits as he can.
The book is extremely easy to read and I finished it in a few days. The light hearted narrative skips along with plenty of conversation and humour.
I have some experience of river cruising, sailing, rowing and canoeing so I appreciated the excellent descriptions of the pleasures and difficulties that they experienced. From the book and subsequent research elsewhere I also now feel like a bit of an expert on 1955 Chris Craft Corsairs. Along the way Alexander and Dale met some wonderfully described characters and clearly benefited from the generosity and affection of the river communities.
If you read the book you will become hooked on some of the infectious sayings that they picked up: ‘been expecting you’, ‘we’re glad you’re here’, ‘see you down the river’, along with various versions of ‘great dawg, does she hunt?’
Because of its true-life nature River Queens etc does not have a complete story as one would expect in a fictional novel. There are some dramatic moments, mostly caused by the weather and mechanical failures. There are also some life events typical to us all. At the end I felt that the book petered out somewhat despite Alexander’s review chapter.
I live in a world where same-sex partnerships and marriages are in no way exceptional, so it was surprising and a little disappointing to see that Alexander and Dale encountered confusion and some hostility both at home and during their travels. Hopefully they have been a good example to those communities to show that their relationship is entirely normal.
Currently River Queens, is only available in the UK in hardback. I don’t know if there are plans for paperback or e-book versions.
River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America is an entertaining, informative and at times lively tale of boating in the Mid-West. I did have a few reservations hence my award of three and a half stars.
Reviewed by Clive
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About the Author
Alexander Watson’s interest in writing came at an early age. His grandparents were world travelers, the Mame Dennis and Beauregard Burnside of their day. They sent postcards and letters from around the globe; but for young Alexander to receive, he had to give.
Reading of their exploits and reciprocating with his own cultivated Mr. Watson’s ability to convey the color of places even as remote as a child’s imagination and render fascinating the petty businesses of the people who lived therein.