Two men and a spotted dog restore a vintage Chris-Craft motor yacht and launch across the American Heartland from Texas to Ohio. The restoration, the people they met along the way, and life in an America which few know exists are the story of River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America.
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I was intrigued when I was offered the opportunity to read a travel memoir about a gay couple who purchase a wooden boat on a whim and take it on a journey neither of them will forget.
River Queens is the engaging story of Alexander Watson and Dale Harris, their amazing Dalmatian, Doris Faye, and their antique designer boat, Betty Jane — a 1955 Chris-Craft that they restored themselves and made seaworthy. The book is kind of a “slice of life” story that follows their journey from restoring the boat to their trip through several states on the rivers of America. The author doesn’t hide the fact that a boat renovation project like this one can be rough on a relationship, and it was compelling to see how they solved their problems — both the boating and relationship ones. I did enjoy seeing them work through numerous setbacks and frustrations, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the restoration tested every skill both of the men possessed. The two of them formed an admirable team though a bit of drama snuck in from time to time.
My personal boating knowledge is limited to canoes and kayaks, so I was initially hesitant to begin reading this book, worrying that the boating terms would be over my head. Though numerous boating terms are indeed used throughout the book, they didn’t pull me out of the story at all. The author also includes a convenient glossary of terms in the back of the book for the curious.
What was fun was watching the two men figure out their boat and learn river culture as they went along, and we got to see just how arduous of a process it was. Basically, the fellows entered into a whole new world with its own rules, lingo, culture, and expectations. Luckily, the guys were often able to rely on locals for advice.
Speaking of locals, this is where the book really shined: the descriptions of the colorful and fascinating people they met along the way. The author uses colloquial dialog and phonetic spelling, which took me a bit to adjust to. But once I did, I loved it and felt that it added so much to the story. I could almost hear their voices in my head as I read, which really added an extra compelling element to the narrative. The dialog, the physical descriptions of the people, their mannerisms, and their animated speech brought them to vivid life. The author truly does a masterful job of capturing these compelling people in his mesmerizing stories. With only a few exceptions, most of the people Watson and Harris encounter are friendly, helpful, and kind, as well as eager to help out inexperienced “newbies.”
Though this book is indeed an emotional and personal journey, the book is not only about Watson and Harris — it’s about connecting with people, about acceptance, helping others, and finding one’s place in the world. This travel narrative grabbed me from the get-go, and before I knew it, I was lost in the story. By the end, I felt as though I were part of Dale and Alexander’s journey myself, and I am so glad this book came to my attention.
A huge thank you to the author for providing a review copy of this book.