Riverman: An American Odyssey
This book is a virtual oxymoron, a chase in slow motion. The title, Riverman, reveals no clue. This is the curious life story of a gentle bearded giant, invariably clad in dungarees, who was determined to sail the rivers of America alone in an overloaded canoe.
After many years, and already a legend, he vanishes. Where he stopped, over and again, his canoe and an assortment of worldly goods are found, many the worse for wear and waterlogged. Searchers retrieve and identify them.
The saga is interrupted over and again as McGrath, a frequent writer for The New Yorker, meets up with men and women whose paths have crossed with Dick Conant. He writes articles about his venture. Initially skeptical, McGrath learns how Conant held a college degree, served in the military, worked as a scientific researcher, and even had run-ins with the law. Although always sailing single-handed, Conan was no hermit; he stayed in touch with friends, stopped for supplies and laundry, followed maps, and kept a journal.
McGrath paces the book well so it is not repetitive, not even weird, but a tribute to a man who, though perhaps not recognized as an “Ideal American,” undeniably became a folk hero.
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