A Review of
My River Chronicles:
Rediscovering America on the Hudson.
Hardback: Free Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Mary Bowling.
Jessica DuLong left her high-rise office job for the belly of an aged fireboat. For her, it was a step removed from the virtual, and forward into a life spent amidst the tangible and tactile. It was also a step backward into the history of the Hudson River. In her memoir, My River Chronicles, DuLong recounts stories from several worlds she has come to know; her past as an up-and-comer, her present in the engine room of the fireboat John J. Harvey, and the history of the boat itself and of the region around the Hudson.
From spending her days (and many nights as well) learning the workings and the feel of this historic vessel, DuLong has gained an appreciation of not just the boat, but of all of the circumstances surrounding the birth and life of the boat on the Hudson River. The book tells stories from many time periods, some of which are directly related to the history of the John J. Harvey. Some tell of the earliest travels made by people up the Hudson. We see what the Hudson has seen. We see explorations, military struggles, inventions and industry, as well as recreation. We see the history of America reflected in the river.
As a part of this history, we learn a lot about what goes on inside a 130 foot fireboat, or at least what went on in a fireboat in the 1930’s. DuLong shares her education with her readers; she tells of the learning that she has had in order to be able to manage as the fireboat engineer and also as captain of a historic tugboat. Some of her experiences seem enviable, and others… not so much. She is in a unique position of being female in a historically male area, and so some of her lessons learned pertain less to the workings of boats than to the people who habit them.
Jessica DuLong’s book is a clear illustration of her love of the long-lasting usefulness that characterized industry along the Hudson for the last century. Apart from the time involved in learning the skills necessary to crew on the fireboat and in digging up so much of its history, she has also been able to communicate her love vibrantly in her words. The language she uses can seem florid for so grimy a subject, but her interest is in sharing abundantly the story of a river that has given so abundantly.