"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Romantic Currents in 'The Emerald Mile'

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand CanyonThe Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unlike the record-chasing canyon run recounted in The Emerald Mile, I did not race through this work. That is not to say it dragged. The book was engrossing and often quite intense. Author Kevin Fedarko captures the high stakes nature of this historic time in the Grand Canyon's history. He ably pulls together a wide variety of sources to accurately convey the story. The task is challenging given that many incidents happened amid chaos and tend to be scantily documented and skewed by legend loving.

My only gripe is the effusive nature of Fedarko's prose. Restatement gives way to overstatement, and his unmistakable love for the subject matter sometimes runs wild like the rapids in the canyon. His musings on the wooden boats preferred by elite river guides for example, or any of several aria-like passages of reflection. Such unbridled romanticism captures the sentiments of the players; however, it also sometimes gums up otherwise efficiently engineered reportage.

Here is one example from the Epilogue, not the most verbose, but certainly characteristic of the author getting carried away:
"As this new generation ran the river together, the ferocious clashes of the past--motors versus oars, rubber versus wood--fell away and were forgotten, and everyone became friends."
I could forgive every word up to and including "forgotten" as common positivism laced with hyperbole. But when Fedarko asserts universal friendship, he claims the unlikely existence of a utopia.

Nevertheless, one of the things which The Emerald Mile effectively relates is the tension between various groups who are inextricably tied to the Grand Canyon. In particular, the book recounts volatility between the free-spirited river culture and the bureaucratic--though similarly idealistic--society of Glen Canyon Dam. And it is in exploring these tensions that the novel achieves true depth from which every reader can draw meaning and appreciation.

Selling Point: The Emerald Mile comes with a great deal of bibliographic material sure to be helpful for readers who want to pursue further reading about the Grand Canyon.

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