Monday, January 22, 2007

Book Review: AGAINST A RAPID STREAM by Mark A. York

In this town virtually everyone and their aunt Martha is an aspiring screenwriter, but I wonder how many of them have ever taken time out to read, much less write, a book…and not just any book, but a nonfiction book. (Most people’s idea of nonfiction these days is The Da Vinci Code.)

In case you’ve forgotten, my blog also features reviews for unpublished books as well as undiscovered screenplays, and out of the 100+ queries I’ve received, only one was for a book manuscript…and not just any book, but a nonfiction book! Enter my first official review for 2007…

AGAINST A RAPID STREAM “With Arnold 1775”: Major Reuben Colburn, Benedict Arnold, George Washington and the March to Quebec

by Mark A. York
10799 Sherman Grove Ave., #39
Sunland, CA 91040Tel: 818-352-5433

Yes, that title’s quite a mouthful, and while the book is similarly crammed with historical references and impeccable research, it is also written in a relaxed narrative prose which flows quite nicely, clocking in at a relatively brief 56,000 words.

This is a family chronicle of sorts, focusing on Reuben Colburn, who served as a Major in the American Revolution and to whom the book’s author is descended.

Reuben Colburn is a Major in the militia, a patriot activist, and the chairman of the local Committee on Safety. From his house in Colburntown, he travels to Cambridge three times in the summer of 1775, meeting with George Washington and Benedict Arnold, trying to help organize the Revolution. They eventually hire him to build boats for a trip upriver to capture Quebec City, with the promise that he would be compensated in the future.

Colburn builds the Bateaux and with his brothers, and Abenaki Indians Sabatis and Natanis, guides Col. Arnold and his 1,000 man army on the tortuous, ill-fated journey.

Arnold goes on to infamy, while Colburn has a successful career in local politics and becomes one of the voters to ratify the U.S. Constitution. But, in the book’s most bittersweet passage, Colburn’s fate would be to die almost penniless, as Washington never honored his promise of compensation for Colburn's efforts. Colburn's children even continue the dispute after his death, but to no avail.

I’m a sucker for history books, and I’m also fascinated by the relatively unknown tales—the smaller family stories passed down, generation to generation, which remind us that these titans of American history were, in fact, human like the rest of us. But it’s hard for me to really review a book like AGAINST A RAPID STREAM because it’s a fairly straightforward work.

As a document of history, this is to its benefit. As an emotionally gripping read, it presents a problem. I liked it, I admired it...but it also left me a bit cold.

York rather fleetingly mentions the research he made into his family’s past, involving years of traveling and exploration. This subject matter is interesting in its own right, and I wanted to know more. Perhaps if York interspersed chapters from his own life—a writer’s journey into his family’s past—with the historical accounts of his ancestors, it would give the narrative a more personal and emotional touch. I guess it depends on the type of document York is looking to create, as well as the kind of readership he hopes to entice.

Regardless, AGAINST A RAPID STREAM is a worthy read, and I recommend it.

Now if only that title wasn’t so damn long.


Mark said...

Many thanks TUC. The title is long to hopefully ensnare those who say it's just a "local tale" devoid of nationalism and national level characters. I think Washington, Burr and Arnold dispel this on its face.

Novelist John Connolly had this to say about the story: "Funny, Mark, but The Unquiet touches on Arnold's march, although only in a paragraph. Good luck with it. I think it's a fascinating story, and not just a Maine one, but an American one."

Connolly sets many of his novels in Maine. It's a book, and a movie in the waiting. Buyers come forth.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter L. Winkler said...

"This is a family chronicle of sorts, focusing on Reuben Colburn, who served as a Major in the American Revolution and to whom the book’s author is descended."

from who

Mark said...

Warm Front in the firstchapters contest. Brief registration required to vote.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work.

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