I cannot figure out why a book about two middle-aged white guys in the antiques-and-renovations business in Dallas, who find a decrepit sixty-year-old wooden yacht on the verge of sinking to the bottom of a Texas lake, pay good money for her, name her Betty Jane, restore her, move aboard with their rescue Dalmatian, and then putter off across the middle of the United States from Oklahoma to Ohio without really knowing what they’re doing is keeping me up nights.
I think it’s because Alexander Watson captures people’s natures and voices like little kids catch and trap fireflies at the shore before Betty Jane’s big launch. Because Dale says to his disconcerted mother, who’d naturally hoped he’d find a blue-blooded woman to marry: “Mama, home is where Al- exander is.” Because the river folks they meet, trying to make out the situation, offer jokes like, “You got the ugliest wife I ever saw.” And because one guy sums them up: “God, what it must be like to be y’all. I mean, being like y’all an’ going’ deep into country full of men like me... An’ what for?... Cuz yer stupid? No, y’all’ve answered the river’s call. Takes guts.”
Alexander and Dale, tracing the Arkansas, Tennessee, and Ohio Rivers, show up with their boat at docks and yacht clubs and let strangers size them up. “Most had never met a homosexual before,” Alexander writes. “Certainly not two together.” Soon the strangers’ eyes flit to the beautiful boat, restored by craftsmen, and the differences vanish.
Of course river-lovers, boat-lovers, restoration-lovers, houseboat-dwellers, and Mark Twain fans must have this book. Other than loving Life on the Mississippi, I don’t have much in common with it myself. But I love it. I can’t put it down.
—Melissa Faye Greene. Two-time finalist for the National Book Award, author of Praying for Sheetrock, The Temple Bombing and other books.