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River Horse: Across America by Boat    by William Least Heat-Moon order for
River Horse
by William Least Heat-Moon
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 1999 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Looking for entertainment on a long drive recently, I picked up this audiobook about another, much lengthier journey, hoping it would help make the miles pass pleasantly for me. It certainly did that, though it often talks of alarming, even life threatening experiences.

Jay O. Sanders skilfully narrates this abridged audiobook version of River Horse by William Least Heat-Moon (aka William Trogdon, author also of Blue Highways and Prairyerth). In it, he describes the exploration not of uncharted territories in some distant region of the earth, but rather of more or less charted riverways that allow passage - at a carefully chosen time of year and under constant time pressure - across the American continent by small boat. Most of the five thousand mile journey - from New York harbor to the Pacific Ocean - is done in a 22-foot C-Dory, named Nikawa by the author, based on Osage words for river (ni) and horse (kawa), hence the book's title.

It's a story of thrills, chills and spills, as the author captains Nikawa on her long voyage, accompanied for most of the journey by an old friend (whom he refers to only as Pilotis). Other companions, like the Photographer, shadow the boat by road, occasionally switching for a stint on the water. In a tone that I found almost too objective (I'd have liked to hear more about the people who took the trip, as well as the local folk encountered on the journey who were briefly introduced to the listener) the author describes riverscapes and their surroundings, summarizes the history of regions the Nikawa passed through and of early American explorers, and delves into environmental issues raised by modern misuse of the natural world.

River Horse is a fascinating account of a successful marathon journey, weathering floods, severe storms, and collisions with submerged obstacles - and regularly rescued at the last minute from potentially voyage-ending crises by a series of most surprising, almost miraculous coincidences.

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