I received a free hardcover copy of this book from the author, Mr. Alexander Watson, in exchange for an honest review
I will admit I had my doubts about this one at the start. Not about the content or quality of writing, I just did not know if the story itself would speak to me. I am what many might call an "indoor girl". I don't like nature, I don't want it near me, I don't want it touching me, and I hate sweat (humidity is the worst thing ever). So, would I really relate to spending X amount of time sailing on the river? Hmmm...
However, I love travel stories. I love adventure and going somewhere just to go. So, I gave this one a shot and I am so glad I did, because I loved it. And I don't know a damn thing about boats, so that's saying something. I read the book within a handful of days and was eager to do so, as Watson is a gifted storyteller. He is able to make the emotion of each situation jump off the page, and really pull the reader in - a highly important skill that not all authors have or show off well.
The book wasn't all serious, there were plenty of laughs along the way, but one must admit to a certain danger still existing in our country for two men in a relationship travelling together. Yet, time and again the people they came into contact with surprised me - in a good way. That does not mean the whole trip was perfect and everyone was kind and wonderful, but compared to how they might have been received by some even 25-30 years ago, we've made some progress. Not enough, but some. We need to celebrate every victory we can get - especially when one considers the small towns the pair travelled to as they sailed from port to port. I was struck by one quote in particular, though there is plenty to delve into regarding Dale's family, when he tells his mother that "Home is where Alexander is." I thought that was just breathtaking and beautiful, but also sad that this was something they were battling within Dale's own family.
I found the conversations and interactions felt authentic and vivid. Sometimes in non-fiction when so many conversations are dictated, it can feel forced or like they're not ringing true. But given what we learn of Alexander and Dale as they lovingly and not-so-lovingly fix up the old boat, everything feels very real, and if I knew what their voices sounded like for real, it would have been very easy to feel like a part of the conversation myself.
Before setting off on their grand adventure, we get to see all that it takes to actually go about restoring a 1955 Chris-Craft. I looked up quite a few pictures when I had no idea what they were talking about and I am definitely no where near an expert, but I am marginally confident I could at least identify the kind of boat if I saw one. But only marginally. Blood, sweat, and tears went into this and we are privy to that, the frustration and the setbacks, the uncooperative weather, everything. We also see how incredibly generous and welcoming people can be, quick to lend time, or tools, or words of advice.
I found that the story spoke to me on a deeper level beyond being a travel memoir. I love to travel and if I had the means, I would flit off to Europe any chance I got, because if anyone knows anything about me here, it is that I love history and especially history of the UK. But just as this story is not solely about Alexander and Dale, my desire to travel is not just about me. I can't wait until there comes a time that I can whisk Eleanor off to some far-away state or country, to show her the world. I've been planning a trip to France and Scotland for some time in order to show Eleanor all the places that still exist (there are not many) that are connected to the formidable queen she is named after - Eleanor of Aquitaine. And Edinburgh is a must as well, she has to see the beautiful city that lent itself to her middle name (Edin, pronounced like Eden, NOT Ed-in). The whole purpose though, will be that this is something we are doing together, the journey, the sharing of this time, that is what will be most important and I feel like is a major theme in the book as well. It wasn't JUST about fixing a boat and travelling up the river. It was about accomplishing something together, that there were doubts about, even unspoken ones. Restoring homes and furniture is one thing, and something the men had going for them - they knew the hard work that would be needed. But still, they didn't KNOW KNOW what they got themselves into until they were actually in it.
I truly did expect more negativity then they actually experienced, and I am grateful that there were so many more positive interactions. So many wonderful and vibrant characters peppered the pages, and it made me reconsider the stereotype that I had in my head when first thinking about those who make their life on the river. Some, of course, played into that stereotype perfectly, but many did not. I am thankful that I was able to get to know some of these wonderful people, just as Alexander and Dale did.
I am in awe of the courage and faith it took to simply go for it, and glad I got to go along for the ride. Highly recommended.