Watermark is something of an homage to my late teens and early twenties, which were spent having a rollicking-good time with a large group of friends in the Great Outdoors back when life was far less complicated. We regularly camped and canoed on the Mackinaw River in conditions that were often primitive, but always wildly fun. Those experiences helped me appreciate Juno’s attachment to the river and the appeal of a simple life full of simple pleasures; those weekends with my friends lacked extravagant amenities, but nights spent around a crackling bonfire laughing and boasting and telling ribald jokes are some of my fondest memories to this day.
Paired with those memories is an excellent book I came across a few years back in a Barnes and Noble bookstore: Wicked River; The Mississippi River When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin is an enormously enjoyable historical read. If you love American history as I do, the descriptions and little anecdotes found throughout this book makes for a fast-paced read. I didn’t buy this book as research fodder for my own novel, but after reading Sandlin’s book several years ago, the idea for Watermark began to germinate, and the rest is, well, history, ha-ha!
Sandlin’s book is well-researched and provides rich details that brings that time in the annals of American history vividly to life. His descriptions of the river are exquisite; colors and smells leap off the pages. He describes a way of life both charming and dangerous, picturesque and violent. River towns are described in all their squalid glory, and it’s mesmerizing. If, like me, you relish the unsightly details of the past as much as the appealing ones, Sandlin’s accounting of life on the Mississippi is a must-read.
Wicked River touches on, but is not limited to: Yellow Fever epidemics; upriver and downriver navigation; pirates, notably the Crow’s Nest pirates; gamblers; slave insurrections; voodoo; Mark Twain; transients; steamboats; drunkenness; camp meetings; the infamous Missouri earthquakes of the early 19th century; helicoidal flow; fancy girls; minstrel shows; and descriptions of the Mississippi River Valley landscape that read like the most divine poetry.
Intrigued? Lee Sandlin’s book can be found on Amazon by clicking here.