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Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most

Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most

4.6 24
by Gwendolyn Bounds, Wendy Bounds, Wendy Bounds

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Nestled along the banks of the Hudson River directly across from the United States Military Academy at West Point sits the rural town of Garrison, New York, home to Guinan's—a legendary Irish drinking hole and country store. While searching for a place to live and a temporary haven following the September 11th attacks, Manhattan journalist Wendy Bounds was


Nestled along the banks of the Hudson River directly across from the United States Military Academy at West Point sits the rural town of Garrison, New York, home to Guinan's—a legendary Irish drinking hole and country store. While searching for a place to live and a temporary haven following the September 11th attacks, Manhattan journalist Wendy Bounds was delivered to Guinan's doorstep by a friend. And a visit that began with one beer turned into a life-changing encounter.

Captivated by the bar's charismatic but ailing owner, Bounds uprooted herself and moved to tiny Garrison. There she became one of the rare female regulars at the old pub and was quickly swept up by its motley characters and charms. What follows is a riveting journey as her fate, and that of Guinan's, unfolds. Told with sensitivity, humor and an unflinching eye, Little Chapel on the River is a love story about a place—and the people who bring it to life.

Along Bounds's journey you'll meet the people of Guinan's: Jim Guinan himself, the stubborn high priest of this little chapel who spins rich tales of the town's robber barons, castles and mythological swans that feed at his front door; his grown children, whose duty to their father, and the town, have kept Guinan's up and running against immeasurable odds; Fitz, a tough-talking Vietnam vet who eventually takes the author under his wing; Tom Endres, who first rowed to the bar illegally as a cadet and who returned as a full-fledged colonel in the U.S Army; Walter, the kindhearted and neurotic next-door neighbor who torches dandelions with his lighter; and Lou-Lou, the overweight doe-eyed hound and the most faithful four-legged parishioner at the pub.

This beautifully written, deeply personal and brilliantly insightful book is as much about remembering to value the past as it is about learning to seize the present. Filled with stories of joy and sorrow, of universal family struggles with loyalty, love, betrayal and redemption, this work ultimately brims with hope as Bounds expertly captures a nostalgic slice of quintessential American life. And while chronicling the pub's fight to endure and her own search for a simpler way of life, she shares how and why the spirit moves those who come to worship in this little chapel on the river.

Editorial Reviews

Nancy Cobb
“A seamless, shining tale.”
Stefan Fatsis
“Stunning. Little Chapel on the River is beautifully written, artfully crafted and lovingly told.”
Dennis Smith
“Compelling . . . I could not put it down.”
Frank Gannon
“Reading Wendy Bounds’s very fine book is much like a delightful night spent visiting a pub in Ireland.”
Billy Collins
“Gwendolyn Bounds has perfectly captured the sounds, flavors—indeed, the soul—of a quickly disappearing kind of small town life.”
Malachy McCourt
“Set aside a huge chunk of time to read this book as putting it down would cause heartache.”
Associated Press
“A true romance--with a place.”
New York Post
“Bounds’ elegiac tale of transformation is a story filled with sweet surprises that never becomes cloying...”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“In an age of spiky-heeled chick-lit, this book is a refreshing change.”
Chicago Tribune
“Bounds captures the warmth of the place and the rootedness it [Guinan’s] symbolizes.”
Associated Press Staff
“A true romance—with a place.”
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"Once you're in the professional game, constantly moving toward that next goal, how do you suddenly call a time-out and not get benched altogether?" Such was the question Bounds, a Wall Street Journal columnist, asked of herself before September 11th. But it's a question that's actually put to the test in her affecting memoir.

Bounds had been living near the World Trade Center when the planes hit and was forced to flee her home, her partner in tow. When they learned that their apartment would be uninhabitable for quite a while, the kindness of strangers led them to Garrison, New York, a tiny town 50 miles north of the city. But it is Guinan's, a rundown country store cum Irish pub, that soon becomes home.

Owned and operated by the eponymous Jim Guinan, Guinan's is the quintessential place where everybody knows your name, and a host of regulars show up each day for a beer and good conversation. And though Bounds had been covering the glamorous fashion beat for the Journal, Guinan's tugs at the strings of her heart, reminding her of the life she abandoned for the lure and promise of New York.

Which life will she choose? Readers will devour this charming book to find the answer, and when they do, they'll want to visit -- even if just in their imaginations -- this life-affirming place that is slipping away for good. (Fall 2005 Selection)
Publishers Weekly
Bounds and her partner lived across the street from the World Trade Center; they both wrote for the Wall Street Journal and were getting ready to go to work when the planes struck the towers on 9/11. They made their way to friends uptown, and in the following months, they parked themselves in a variety of temporary accommodations, as their building was uninhabitable. One friend brought them to Guinan's, an old Irish bar in the small, upper Hudson River town of Garrison, N.Y.-and Bounds soon felt at home. She gradually let herself become enmeshed in the Guinan family saga, as well as in the intertwined tales of the regular customers. Before long, "the invisible red velvet rope" lifted, and she was helping out at the bar and setting up shop when the aging owner was hospitalized for diabetes-related surgery, buying a ramshackle home nearby and generally becoming included in the Guinan extended family. Bounds's story isn't flashy or dramatic; it's as low-key as her new, non-Manhattan friends. It modestly reminds us that in this uncertain world, when you come to a place that speaks to you, you should hold it dear and treasure it while it lasts. Photos. Agent, David Black. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In the era of big box stores, chain restaurants, and the proliferation of cloned communities, this debut about a family-owned pub in Garrison, NY, on the Hudson River will be perceived as timely and meaningful. Bounds, a Wall Street Journal columnist, found sanctuary at Guinan's after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which forced her to evacuate her apartment in downtown Manhattan. Besides victuals, newspapers, early- morning coffee, and late-night beers, the pub served up conversation, free music, and soothing routine. Two decades ago, Guinan's would have been both ordinary and unique in the way that all small-town emporiums were ordinary and unique, but probably not the subject of a marketable book. Today, its mere existence renders it extraordinary. Bounds sketches the pub's regulars with humorous, compassionate strokes and questions-in light of this place so slow to change and stubborn in its values-whether the fast track to widespread homogenization is really the route we should be traveling. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05.]-Maria Kochis, California State Univ., Sacramento Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.01(d)

Read an Excerpt

Little Chapel on the River

A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most
By Gwendolyn Bounds

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Gwendolyn Bounds
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060564067

Chapter One


Didn't you hear it?

The sky is a brilliant blue and clear, the air unusually warm for September -- a sign we are still closer to August than October. A little past 8 a.m. finds me still moving slowly around my Manhattan apartment, stepping over the dirty clothes and half-unpacked suitcases from a two-week beach vacation in the Hamptons and Southern California. My girlfriend, Kathryn, is in the kitchen washing dishes. Neither of us hurry. The Wall Street Journal's offices, where we work, sit directly across the street, making our commute something approximating eight minutes from door to desk.

It is Tuesday.

Cup of coffee in hand, I curl up in a chair at our dining room table overlooking the harbor in Battery Park City. To my left is the Hudson River. To my right, the World Trade Center towers. The windows are open to catch the early morning breeze. Joggers run by, breathing in damp sea air. Workers are streaming off the ferry, headed into the various office buildings downtown.

Sipping my coffee, I glance at the New York Times front page for September 11, 2001. A collage of pictures shows the city's mayoral candidates stumping for last-minute votes for the day's primary elections. There is a story about stem cell research, and a piece about the trafficking of nuclear material to Iraq and Iran. I skim an article about young girls dressing like Britney Spears at school and think about my day, which spreads before me, orderly and full. There's a 9:30 a.m. doctor's appointment, a 1 p.m. lunch at Odeon, editing in the afternoon, a 7 p.m. appointment to look at a loft for sale and then back to the office to edit prototype pages for a new section our paper is creating called Personal Journal. One notch below these obligations churn the smaller concerns: I need to call my mother ... my toenails are a wreck from two weeks in the salt water ... neck hurts from six hours in a tiny coach airline seat... . Guiltily I watch another set of joggers chug by ... could cancel lunch and sneak out to the gym instead ... will think it over in the shower... .

The conditioner is nearly rinsed out of my hair, and I'm lingering too long as usual under the warm water, when the first plane strikes. And with that initial deep thud, the day's dependable order explodes into mental Polaroid snapshots and sound bites. Hearing the noise, like someone dropping a cauldron upstairs. Yelling through the shower curtains to see if Kathryn is okay. Finishing my shower. Figuring it was nothing. Getting dressed. And then a phone call from our friend Erle, who lives in a building nearby -- "Didn't you hear it?" -- telling us to look out our window. Looking out and seeing the smoke streaking from the first tower across the street, hearing people scream beneath our window. Turning on CNN and seeing the second plane fly across the screen, an instant before we hear the roar in real time over our heads. And then the slam of the impact across the street. A bit of panic now -- knowing that two planes can't be an accident -- throwing on our clothes, grabbing our wallets, reporters' notepads and cell phones. The little decisions we'll regret: I choose open-toed black sandals. Contacts already in, Kathryn leaves her glasses behind. Running down ten flights of stairs, not even bothering to dead-bolt the door. Because of course we'll be home for dinner. Of course Kathryn's fourteen-year-old cat, Stoli, will be better off here than outside in the chaos. Minds still glibly tuned to the way life is, with its reason and predictability, it never occurs to us to look back and register home, warm and alive with our presence, one more time.

From Erle's apartment a block farther south, we watch the Pentagon in flames on TV. Listen to the newscasters try to make sense of all this. Then a colleague from work, one of our top news editors, walks by the window. We yell at him to wait, gather our notepads and then go outside, where we congregate together by the river. What's going on? we ask each other rhetorically, our voices oddly pitched. We are wired, full of questions, scribbling details in our little books. This is a news event. We do not know to be scared.

The first tower's collapse is invisible. What we see are the giant smoke plumes pouring around the corner, cartoonish in their dervish, billowing balls. What we hear is that rumble, a deep, horrible, guttural noise as if the earth were growling. Thinking that maybe a bomb had gone off in one of the planes, I am suddenly alone several hundred feet down the river. Did I run? I must have run. Blinded from the smoke, I make my way back north against the tide of moving bodies, calling for Kathryn and Erle until I find them holding the river's guardrail and calling for me. Then together we join the throngs fleeing south along the river, racing from something we can't see amid the abandoned baby carriages, high-heeled shoes and unshaven men scurrying by in their curiously patterned boxers, briefcases tucked under one arm.

When the second tower falls -- again, the deepest growl -- we're at the very end of the island, now nearly covered in what seems a relentless white dust storm and still ignorant of what's unfolding, although there is now a rumor floating about the lips of the fleeing: a piece of one tower may have broken off. Aircraft storm low overhead, and not knowing they are our own military, the noise is terrible. I start to step over the railing, ready to face the Hudson River rather than whatever that noise brings. Kathryn grabs my arm and pulls me back. The sky is so dark I can barely see her or Erle, who is still carrying his 101 Dalmatians coffee cup ...


Excerpted from Little Chapel on the River by Gwendolyn Bounds Copyright © 2005 by Gwendolyn Bounds. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Malachy McCourt
"Set aside a huge chunk of time to read this book as putting it down would cause heartache."
author of A Monk Swimming
Dennis Smith
"Compelling . . . I could not put it down."
author, Report from Engine Co. 82, A Song for Mary and Report from Ground Zero
Stefan Fatsis
“Stunning. Little Chapel on the River is beautifully written, artfully crafted and lovingly told.”
Nancy Cobb
"A seamless, shining tale."
author of In Lieu of Flowers
Frank Gannon
"Reading Wendy Bounds's very fine book is much like a delightful night spent visiting a pub in Ireland."
author, Mid-Life Irish
Billy Collins
"Gwendolyn Bounds has perfectly captured the sounds, flavors--indeed, the soul--of a quickly disappearing kind of small town life."
Poet Laureate, author of Picnic, Lightning

Meet the Author

Gwendolyn (Wendy) Bounds is a writer and editor for The Wall Street Journal, where she has worked since 1993. Bounds has written about culture, travel, technology, retail and fashion, and has also published several first-person pieces and columns about family for the newspaper. Her first-person essay "Amid the Ashes, Baby Carriages, Shoes, Family Photos," which she wrote with her partner Kathryn Kranhold, won the 2002 Front Page Award for September 11th commentary from the Newswoman’s Club of New York.

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Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town, and the Search for What Matters Most 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
mgz5 More than 1 year ago
You will wish you could be part of the story. Real characters, situations that make you feel like you have truly found a second home.
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My grandfather is always giving me books he wants me to read, too many for me to actually read them all in a timely manner. Most of the books are mysteries and some are other genres that aren't necessarily my taste. So, when he gave me this book I wasn't sure what to expect, it looked like it might be interesting, but it still took me a few months to actually get around to reading it. I am so unbelievably glad that I did. It is now one of my all time favorite books. I am so grateful to my Pop Pop for introducing this book to me, for I highly doubt that I would have ever come across it on my own. I am also thankful to Gwendolyn Bounds for giving my grandfather and I a touching, humorous, and amazing book to discuss.
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of-course More than 1 year ago
Awww, I loved this book. I'm sorry that the Little Chapel has since closed, but what a nice story.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is thoughtful and engaging story appropriate for anyone. If you live in or are familiar with the Hudson Valley it is particularly poignant. If you are lucky enough to have ever been to Guinan's Pub as I was, it is an absolute must.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
moeflood More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, felt like I was right there in the bar with everybody and part of the family. A touching yet also humorous look at the way we create families for ourselves when we need them, and the way men and women who have known each other for years are there for each other when the need arises. The book takes us from the chaos and horror of 9/11 to the (usually) peaceful sanctuary of the small town pub.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the very beginning, I felt as if I was there with the author as her experiences unfolded. The Guinans story made me think about what's important in life. From the author's personal description you could vividly see and hear each person. This was an extremely emotional story for me, as it portrayed both family and community love and sacrifice. It 'called' for me to visit this little chapel. How disappointed I was when I found that the Chapel had since closed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I adored every minute of this engaging book of an assorted group of people who shared their lives (and a few beers!)with each other. Heartwarming view of a little community who made the world a better place.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Little Chapel on the River is a wonderful read,a book that made me think about people, community,and place.I loved the way, the author revealed how she changed and grew in an unlikely place, after 9/11.The story of loyality, friendship, growth, and humor touched my heart, and not in a sappy way.Will recommend this book to many.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book magical. It was so beautifully written and created such a warm picture of this community and how to find meaning in your own life and place. I struggled since 9/11 to read or watch anything about the event, because it was so hard to think about. However, this memoir changed that for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What fun to think that I was purchasing a book about a pub, when actually, I was purchasing a book about a person's thought processes regarding her life change after 911. It was also very interesting to read the various tidbits of historical information about West Point and the Hudson River area, and the author paints nice word pictures with her writing. I really was surprised by the content of the book, and I really enjoyed the read too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is breathtaking and a wonderful gift since I have known the Guinan's since the late 60's - their 'store' was my home away from home and have such great memories of our times together with Margaret, Christine, Jimmy and John. The author certainly describes the place to a T!! A wonderful book that will be enjoyed by all....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Little Chapel on the River brings you the warmth of a place where you feel secure. When reading this author's new book, you will be removed from your daily stresses finding yourself wanting to be with the author and characters in this book.