River-Horse: A Voyage Across America

William Least Heat Moon, Author Houghton Mifflin Co $26 (528p) ISBN 978-0-395-63626-8

Writing under the name Heat-Moon (Blue Highways), William Trogdon once again sets out across America, this time propelled chiefly by a dual-outboard boat dubbed Nikawa, ""River Horse"" in Osage. In this hardy craft, he and a small crew attempt to travel more than 5000 miles by inland waterways from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a single season. Citing 19th-century travelogues and dredging odd bits of the rivers' past, Heat-Moon conveys the significance of passing ""beneath a bridge that has looked down on the stovepipe hat of Abraham Lincoln, the mustache of Mark Twain, the sooty funnels of a hundred thousand steamboats."" Though at first he is struck by how river travel is ""so primordial, so unchanged in its path,"" he later notes that the only thing Lewis and Clark would recognize on a dammed and severely altered stretch of the Missouri River is the bedeviling prairie wind. But what remains constant for him is ""the greatest theme in our history: the journey."" It is an American theme, though by ""westering"" and persistently believing that the voyage is destined to succeed, Heat-Moon seems to be on dangerous waters for someone who is part Native American. But his romantic attachment to the nature of exploration doesn't occlude his indictments of pollution, overzealous river management and aboriginal displacement. The book, though largely engaging, is not without its slow spots, which Heat-Moon avers are true to the trip's nature: ""the river is no blue highway because the river removes reverie."" Heat-Moon has written a rich chronicle of a massive and meaningful undertaking. Unlike Blue Highways, however, the focus is not so much on people and places as on the trials of a journey that bypasses them in favor of reaching its destination. Illus. 250,000 first printing; $250,000 ad/promo; 13-city author tour. (Oct.)
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