Saturday, October 10, 2009

Review - The Canoist

The Canoeist
John Manuel
Jefferson Press
ISBN 0-97189-747-6
I remember rolling under the canoe; the way the water muffled the roar of the rapid and softened the sun’s glare. All around me were bubbles, millions and millions of them, rushing along at the same speed. We are like this – souls traveling through space. We are born in the tumult of the river, carried along by forces we cannot control. And we’re also beautiful in the way we hold the light, murmuring to one another on this journey toward the surface, our short spiraling lives.
–Page 208
The river in this passage was Tennessee’s Ocoee, portrayed as an ultimate challenge for canoeists, a river generally reserved for kayaks and white water rafts.
The author’s trip down the Ocoee is the climax to a journey that began on the peaceful waters of the Chagrin River near his parent’s home in Cleveland, Ohio. Along the way Manuel traversed such well known waterways as the Allagash (Maine), the Nantahala (North Carolina), and the Chattooga (Georgia). This last was the whitewater backdrop for the movie Deliverance based on James Dickey’s novel of the same title.
Manuel skillfully weaves in the story of his family and his career along the way. Within the pages he recounts emotional distance from his father, a hard nosed businessman who taught him canoeing skills but never understood his career path as a conservationist working for nonprofit organizations, or his later decision to become a writer.
Manuel also recounts the courtship of his wife Cathy, a strong canoeist in her own right. He tells the reader about his son and daughter, and about his determination to maintain a healthy relationship with them and not repeat the separation between him and his father.
Manuel’s ability to weave these many stories into a unified whole reveal his skill as a gifted writer. The canoeist is an enjoyable read.

- Reviewed by Ray Zimmerman

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