The River Queen: A Memoir

The River Queen: A Memoir

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by Mary Morris
     
 

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This story of a middle-aged woman's odyssey down the Mississippi River is a funny, beautifully written, and poignant tale of a journey that transforms a life


In fall 2005 acclaimed travel writer Mary Morris set off down the Mississippi in a battered old houseboat called the River Queen, with two river rats named Tom and Jerry—and a rat

Overview

This story of a middle-aged woman's odyssey down the Mississippi River is a funny, beautifully written, and poignant tale of a journey that transforms a life


In fall 2005 acclaimed travel writer Mary Morris set off down the Mississippi in a battered old houseboat called the River Queen, with two river rats named Tom and Jerry—and a rat terrier, named Samantha Jean, who hated her. It was a time of emotional turmoil for Morris. Her father had just died; her daughter was leaving home; life was changing all around her. It was then she decided to return to the Midwest where she was from, to the river she remembered, where her father had played jazz piano in tiny towns.

Morris describes living like a pirate and surviving a tornado. Because of Katrina, oil prices, and drought, the river was often empty—a ghost river—and Morris experienced it as Joliet and Marquette had four hundred years earlier. As she learned to pilot her beloved River Queen without running aground and made peace with Samantha Jean, Morris got her groove back, reconnecting to her past. More important, she came away with her best book, a bittersweet travel tale told in the very real voice of a smart, sad, funny, gutsy, and absolutely appealing woman.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this chronicle of a self-imposed journey down the Upper Mississippi River, Morris (Nothing to Declare) attempts to figure out her future and enjoy herself. After her daughter leaves for college and her father dies, Morris opts to jump aboard a houseboat, hoping the quest will help her navigate life's troughs. It's a great idea, but the voyage is tough on the reader. Morris is a touchy trekker, making her less than a great travel companion. Until the last third of the book, she's distressed by just about everything having to do with the venture. The cramped quarters on the houseboat, the food, the once booming river towns now mostly boarded up and lonely, and the sometimes tedious pace all cause her consternation. "I hate pizza. I hate all that doughy stuff. I want a meal, shower, amenities," sums up her attitude for most of the trip. Morris sprinkles the narrative with tantalizing bits of fact and opinion regarding both the human and natural environments she encounters. This is where the book sparkles. But often she barely skims the surface, leaving the reader thirsty for more. Sadly, by the time Morris regains her spirit and begins to enjoy the adventure, readers may have jumped ship. (Apr.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, travel writer and memoirist Morris (Nothing To Declare) set out on a decrepit houseboat with two river guides named Tom and Jerry. As her life was changing rapidly-her father had just died at age 103, and her daughter was leaving for her first year of college-Morris decided to travel, seeking comfort and adventure by returning to her family home, the Midwest's river country. The journey down the Mississippi took her boat through many unfamiliar places, but Morris was most interested in the towns that were significant to her father's long life. She writes of him as a difficult, often abusive, and secretive man and tries to reconcile their troubled relationship, weaving a memoir of her family into a travelog recounting fascinating places and people, including a Katrina survivor, a sorcerer, and denizens of many small ports. Never sentimental or maudlin, this is a realistic memoir of a strong woman on both a physical and an emotional journey at midlife. Recommended for public libraries and academic libraries with travel collections.-Lisa N. Johnston, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rambling author Morris (Revenge, 2004, etc.) hires a houseboat and captain to take her down the Mississippi on the trail of Mark Twain and the father she missed. Restless in middle age, with a newly empty Brooklyn nest (daughter Kate had recently left for college), Morris decided it was time to shake her anxiety and prescription drugs for a travel adventure she could make into a new book. She located the River Queen, a sturdy, grime-ridden boat dry-docked near La Crosse, Wisc., and struck a deal with its hard-of-hearing captain, Jerry. Together with the ship's mechanic Tom and his beloved little black dog (who snarled and lunged at Morris), they eventually got it together and took off downstream two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It was a poignant journey for Morris, who grew up in Chicago, went East for college in the mid-1960s and never looked back. Her father, who died in 2005 at the age of 102, used to sell ladies' garments at Klein's Department Store in Hannibal, Mo., Mark Twain's legendary hometown. Dad later moved to Illinois and got rich creating the first Midwestern malls, but Morris was raised on his river tales. The trip itself was fairly uneventful, though she was sad to see once-great river towns like Dubuque, Muscatine and Hannibal hollowed by suburban malls. With patient Jerry's help, Morris learned to steer, navigated the river's system of locks and dams, endured storms, adjusted to crawling river time and mastered tying a seaman's knot. Her ineptitude is endearing, as is her need for showers and order on board. Along the way, she offers history about the muddy, meandering river and her angry, aphorism-spouting, toupee-wearing father. Serenely calibrated, pleasant andheartfelt.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466843608
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
05/03/2013
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
228,350
File size:
355 KB

Meet the Author

Mary Morris is the author of three other travel memoirs, each one representing a different moment in her life: Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone (0-312-19941-4), Wall to Wall, and Angels and Aliens. She is also the author of six novels and three collections of short stories. When she is not traveling and writing, Morris is on the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College where she teaches creative writing. The recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.


Mary Morris is the author of twelve books (including Acts of God, The Night Sky, and House Arrest), three collections of short stories, including The Lifeguard, and three travel memoirs, including Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone and Angels&Aliens: A Journey West (all available from Picador). Her numerous short stories and travel essays have appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, and Vogue. The recipient of the Rome Prize, Morris teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

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The River Queen 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In her memoir, The River Queen, Mary Morris takes her readers on a unique journey down the mighty Mississippi as she makes a private journey of her own¿coming to terms with her father¿s passing. Her naïveté is refreshing, and she admits early in the book, ¿I don¿t have the river in my head, yet.¿ Unlike the writer¿s friend, who never thought about the river despite growing up in St. Louis, I grew up twenty miles southeast of St. Louis, and the river has been a large presence in my life. Like many Midwesterners, I have traveled the river and visited some of the places Morris describes. By the book¿s end, Morris has changed. She has learned things about her father¿s life and about herself, contentment evident as she pilots the last leg of her journey with the river firmly fixed in her head. I agree with T.S. Eliot, ¿The sea is around us, but the river is in us.¿ Reading Morris¿s memoir will put a little of the river in every reader.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Brooklyn, travel author Mary Morris was mourning the death of her father as her daughter was going off to college when she decided the walls of her empty nest abode was increasing her anxiety caused by these recent reminders of her mortality. The travelogue writer needed something different to occupy her middle age thoughts as pictures from the 1920s of her father makes her feel she must do something to honor his memory and to get her out of the doldrums. She hires a Mississippi River houseboat the River Queen owned by Captain Jerry to take her down the great river starting in Wisconsin with plans to reach Hannibal, Missouri home of Twain and her dad, who told her and her brother many river tales.------------- The memoir is at its best when Ms. Morris observes the ¿mallization¿ of the river towns that make places like Dubuque different than what she describes in her dad¿s vivid images and metaphors. Also fun is when Jerry teaches her how to steer their vessel though she is not a grade A student. When Ms. Morris goes introspective the travelogue turns muddier than the Mighty Mississippi especially when she rages about her dislikes. Still this is a fine memoir that is entertaining when Ms. Morris brings to life the changing upper river basin especially in the latter half of the journey as if the river eventually cleansed the visitor¿s hurting soul.------------ Harriet Klausner
Anonymous 6 months ago
As a person who loves the Mississippi River, I was looking forward to reading River Queen. I was also interested in the author's personal journey and reflections on her family's life. Now, over half way through the book, I'm not sure I'll finish it. The writing is disjointed; the author a constant critic of small towns and the Midwest; in fact, there's not much she doesn't criticize and complain about. A previous review says by the end of her trip she's changed. I hope it's for the better. I just don't know if I'm willing to invest the time and emotions to find out.