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River Queens: Saucy Boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America

by Alexander Watson

Rating: ****

River Queens; the non-fiction tale of the Author, his partner in life and business, Dale Harris and their dog, Doris Faye. Together they restore a vintage wooden mid-1950s Chris-Craft forty-five feet yacht (Betty Jane) and undertake a voyage from Texas up to Ohio. As with all journeys, they meet a raft (pardon the pun) of supremely interesting and eccentric characters who aid and abet them in their restoration, new-found boating knowledge and become an integral part of Alexander and Dale’s river life.

Personally, reading this memoir every evening was the literary equivalent of slipping into the comfiest pair of slippers, the softest, most cushioned of chairs and exhaling the day away. One of those books when you mentally say ‘just one more chapter’, and you’ve read three more. Mr Watson has a knack for travel writing certainly but also a real deft, comedic touch. It’s rare I laugh out loud when reading but some of the characters were so brilliantly animated, they were hilarious without being caricaturised. One of the standouts for me was the gentleman in the Tag Office in Sallisaw (Chapter Six). I find when Authors write colloquial dialogue it can get rather tedious, but Alexander wrote it perfectly, it was a joy to read and you could hear their voices naturally resonant in your head (and I am English). It added another dimension to these fantastic people that he and Dale meet and, along with the physical descriptions which were wryly observed, it brought them vividly to life. Everyone they encountered jumped from the page and you felt you had met and conversed with them yourself.

Aside from Betty Jane and the escapades of the river and its people, there are small reminiscences; snippets of information from Alexander’s history which hint at a challenging past. I could have had more of these memories woven through the book. His relationships with his Parents, primarily his Mother were intriguing and, despite her being presented in a fairly amusing way, there was an anger, regret and sadness in these passages which countered the otherwise bouncy narrative. Dale remains an absolute constant both at the helm of Betty Jane and Alexander’s life and, in many ways, is the quiet thread that holds this book and, I suspect, Alexander together.

I know nothing about boats so there were times that it became a little technical and, for that reason, I could have done with the glossary at the beginning of the book. I was reading a soft copy edition and did not realise until the end that the glossary was there. I also would have found the inclusion of a map very helpful and a picture of Betty Jane because I did struggle to visualise her. However, I understand a map is present in hard copy.

River Queens was an entertaining read written by a naturally gifted writer with a nicely acerbic, observational style that easily lends itself to part-memoir/travelogue. Highly recommended.

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