I cannot possibly write about William Least-Heat Moon’s River Horse without at least talking about his original masterpiece Blue Highways. Blue Highways was born out of a serious disruption to William’s life. With his marriage ending and an unexpected dismissal from a college teaching job, William took to the back roads in search of America. Sounds hokey, but William demonstrates an unnerving ability to get people to talk about themselves and in doing so he collects more stories than a library. What also makes Blue Highways special is the path of his journey which resembles more a circle than a line. He is very much here a hobo in possession of a van.
In contrast, River Horse is about one clearly articulated direction; west. William trades his vehicle for a boat and a small rotating crew of co-pilots in order to travel from New York City to Astoria. In doing so, William and his crew battle flooded rivers, choppy seas, and the boat itself. At times they bed down on their house boat, but they also sleep in bed and breakfasts, cheap motels, and one raucous river rat dwelling. And through it all William tells of the people he meets and describes quite eloquently the challenges inherent to such an unconventional journey. It does not get much better than that.