cover image Riverman: An American Odyssey

Riverman: An American Odyssey

Ben McGrath. Knopf, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-451-49400-9

New Yorker staff writer McGrath debuts with the mostly riveting though sometimes meandering story of his search for a solo traveler and canoeing enthusiast who went missing in 2014. The author met Dick Conant shortly before his disappearance and wrote a story about the itinerant “river wanderer” who, at the time, was traveling by canoe from Canada to Florida. After Conant disappeared in North Carolina, McGrath set out to find him and learn about his life, the quest taking him to meet Conant’s brothers, who supplied him with Conant’s journals, from which he learns of Conant’s time in the mountains of Tennessee and in Bozeman, Mont.—in the end, McGrath writes, “I have tried here to make Conant the hero of his own epic, while not giving anyone the illusion that it was an enviable life.” McGrath is strongest when describing his own investigative work—his vivid descriptions of the places he visits and the people he meets hum with life, and he offers fascinating insight into the craft of writing a story about an elusive subject. His language sometimes tends toward the grandiose (Conant is “a Studs Terkel of the riverbank,” with “a touch of Whitman in his eclectic erudition”), but those with a soft spot for accounts of rugged individualism will be enchanted. (Apr.)