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River House: A Memoir (Tin House New Voice) Paperback – October 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Lawrence grew up on a ranch in the high desert of Oregon, where her strong, unflappable mother is content, but where her father, a surfer in a place of little water and epic winters, suffers like a caged bird. Lawrence develops a passion for rivers, and at a young age, she becomes an accomplished, seemingly fearless, world-traveling river guide and advocate pleased with her roughing-it, transient life. Until she finds herself on the flooded, hence monstrous, Tambopata River on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Suddenly, it seems imperative that she build her own log house on her family’s land, just as her parents did. Surely this will make her father happy. Instead, he’s instructively adversarial, and her strenuous and dangerous work on the ranch caring for 40 horses and constructing her house in the bitter cold is as harrowing and demanding as any wilderness sojourn. Handy with tools and rafts, a good neighbor, and a mighty fine horsewoman, Lawrence is also adept with language, writing with arresting lucidity and a driving need to understand her father, her legacy, the land, community, work, and herself. A true adventure story of rare dimension. --Donna Seaman

Review

"Handy with tools and rafts, a good neighbor, and a mighty fine horsewoman, Lawrence is also adept with language, writing with arresting lucidity and a driving need to understand her father, her legacy, the land, community, work, and herself. A true adventure story of rare dimension." —Booklist, starred review

"With her keen eye and talent for writing about the natural world, Lawrence pays homage to the American West. . . Lawrence is one of those remarkable young women spawned by the American West who are adept at running wild rivers, operating heavy equipment, and building a log home, all evocatively told in this informative book."—Publishers Weekly

"It's messy, this building of houses and relationships, but the experiences give this memoir an existential grace."—Kirkus Reviews

"In her stirring memoir, River House, Sarahlee Lawrence describes a yearning to return to her rural Oregon home that’s every bit as powerful as was her youthful need to escape it. . . Lawrence brings her connection to home alive in the classic Oregon-lit tradition of turning landscape and climate into a beautifully surly character."—Randy Gragg, Portland Monthly

"It's very simple: If you call Oregon your home—not just Portland, but this whole big awkward schizophrenic state—then you need to go to a bookstore and purchase a copy of Sarahlee Lawrence's River House. . . if there's any justice, it'll become an Oregon classic."—Alison Hallet, Portland Mercury

"Astonishing. . . [River House] resonated more deeply with me than anything I've read about Oregon in a long, long time. . . River House pulses with movement."—The Oregonian

"Lawrence writes with remarkable candor about her loved ones; the joys and pitfalls of life in a small community; and the creeping development from upscale Bend 40 miles away. She is in her element writing about nature, and it's a treat to share her journey."
Seattle Times

"A memoir narrative that pivots off the worlds of landscape and wild water."
The Salt Lake Tribune

"It's a sturdy, honest, and direct recounting of the author's audacious life in unusual places, and is a beautifully clear exposition of her relationships with her parents, neighbors, and friends, living and dead."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Lawrence’s voice, like the desert, is beautiful in its simplicity, while she herself embodies the strong womanhood of the American West. Like her many skills, this debut book is versatile—resembling, at intervals, a memoir, nature-adventure writing and easily digestible rural philosophy. Her simple prose makes her adventures in construction, gardening and horse-tending seem as thrilling as Tambopata’s rapids. Lawrence’s writing is honest and, like the river that begins her memoir, raw."
Salt Lake City Weekly

"More action and grit than soul-searching and pretty writing, this memoir ends up a love note to Central Oregon."
The Eugene Register-Guard

"Lawrence’s debut book forecasts the beginning of a new career – that of a talented writer. Her descriptive prose paints a vivid and respectful portrait of the natural world, which she clearly treasures. . . River House is a rare accomplishment with a narrative that flows and ebbs like the mighty current of life."
Durango Herald

"[Sarahlee Lawrence] has crafted a memoir with sentences that draw one’s attention like a firefly buzzing around your head in the heat of summer."
Cascadia Weekly

"A transfixing read. . . the end of River House leaves a reader begging for a sequel."—New West

"An engaging piece of literary work about passion, travel, love, and what it means to come home."—Wend

"An exquisite story of personal strength and nature."—Fort-Wayne News-Sentinel

"River House is about rediscovering family and working through the compromises involved in finding your life, the people and days you actually love. It’s tough, smart and eloquently told, a dead on beauty. Enjoy. I surely did."
—William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The Willow Field

"Log by log, and word by word, Lawrence locates her love and affirms her commitment to her parents, her place, and the natural world. If you love wild water and land, if you value hard work and family, this is the book not to miss."—Phil Condon, author of Clay Center

"In River House, Sarahlee Lawrence tells a story as carefully hewn and crafted, as lovingly rendered, as the log cabin she and her father have built together in the high desert of central Oregon. It’s a story of roots; the pull of the land that calls her back to the heart of her family farm. And it’s the story of wings, the journey of a father and a daughter each coming to terms with a dream."—Judy Blunt, author of Breaking Clean

“Lawrence is a promising voice of nature writing’s next generation as evidence by the rich and poetic language that matches the breath-taking scenery it describes.”—National Book Critics Circle

“Sarahlee Lawrence has experienced more adventure in a couple of decades than most of us can hope for in a lifetime.”—Orion Magazine

"Only once before have I seriously considered calling in sick so I could read nonstop. [River House] made the second time. . . This is not just a book. This is more."—Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
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Product Details

  • Series: Tin House New Voice
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books; 1 edition (October 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0982569130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0982569139
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #631,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
`River House" is the memoir of Sarahlee Lawrence, mainly describing the building of her log home on her parent's property on the high desert of Oregon. Her descriptions and story flow easily, but also with much frustration both for her, her father who helps her build her home and the reader. The book starts out with no real description. It jumps into her love of running rivers. She is in Peru and leaves with a man she has just met to run the Tambopata River - her information consists of some squiggly lines on a cocktail napkin, she does not even bring a first aid kit, which it turns out is desperately needed.
You know from the beginning that this will not be a tale of a sensible, reasonable woman.
There is intolerance and bitterness here (many times with understandable justification) of any city dweller who comes to live in their locale, and of their McMansions. She" knew how rich people liked to settle in the sagebrush where there's privacy and a view. It gives them a reason to drive their expensive cars".

She loves her mother and father and this work with her father is a time for them she says, but yet there is much she does not respect about him," only my father could teach me how to survive the desert for a lifetime. Not by his successes, but by his failures". He always has his jar of weed and makes much use of it throughout his life. He is indeed a lost surfer, far from the sea.
It is often hard to picture what she is doing, both in her river rafting and in the building of the house. Her descriptions of the high desert are detailed but something is missing elsewhere in her explanatory method.
There is much aggravation here, both towards her, at her attitude, and her father - to each other and it leaches out to include the reader many times.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
This 27 year old woman has traveled more, literally and figuratively, than most people travel in a lifetime. From some of the most dangerous rivers in the world, to building a log home in Oregon with her father's less than enthusiastic help, Saralee Lawrence generously and honestly shares her experiences, insights and feelings that drive her. With all she has already experienced, one is left wondering where she will go next -- we look forward to a sequel. Regardless, whether guiding a rafting trip, sawing logs or organic farming, she can turn even the most mundane of tasks into ones that enlighten and captivate the reader. If there are other young people with values like those of Ms. Lawrence out there, we can feel more confident about the next generation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mark and April on August 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
Disappointing book - frequently feels like the author is building up to something happening and then it doesn't. The start of the book is interesting as she's running rivers but really stalls out when she returns home. The minutiae of building a log home from scratch gets old quickly for the reader with far too much repetition and the story ends with the feeling she just got tired of writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By All the King's Men on March 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a true story of Rainshadow Organics in Oregon. Author Sarahlee Lawrence babbles on and on in her book about her pothead dad, building her house, and her general superiority as an organic farmer in what she obviously sees as a small backwards farming community. Which is also her hometown. The book rats out her father's mental issues, addictions, and the pain this brings upon her mother who obviously enables him. Sarahlee thinks she invented the concept of sustainable living while living in her backwards hometown, and she supports them all. And saves the family farm by herself.

Mildly interesting if you're from central Oregon.
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Format: Paperback
River House is the memoir of a young woman with a passion for running wild rivers, but whose need to truly connect with her father brings her back to the high desert of Central Oregon to build a log home on the family ranch. Together, she and her father (a man with a passion of his own - surfing) take on the mind-and-body-straining labor of constructing her house by hand, log by log. With Sarahlee Lawrence's descriptions, the reader is as fascinated by this arduous and brutal process, doggedly completed in the face of an Oregon winter, as by her harrowing account of running a savage river in an exotic wilderness.

But the book is much more than its action. It is at one level the personal story of a young woman's love for, and desire to understand, a difficult and enigmatic father. Through their interactions, the reader comes to have an affection and sympathy for this strange character, even while aching for his daughter's longing to somehow subvert his craving to leave the ranch - a longing that is always just below the surface of her portrait. At another level, River House is a classic story of the American West and its people - tough, hardy, taciturn, but passionate and unwavering in taking on and finishing prodigious challenges.

This is a book about courage of many kinds, of perseverance, of thrilling excitement and grueling labor, of finding beauty and peace in difficult circumstances, and most of all, it is a book about hard, demanding, and yes, painful love.
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By Autumn Oak on April 17, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am an avid reader of river rafting adventures that people have taken around the world Through her words, this memoir shares Sarahlee's travels and excitement with the reader. During her travels, she took one book with her... WALDEN by Henry David Thoreau given to her by her mother. She receives great inspiration from it and fosters a growing urge to go back home to her parents farm in Oregon and build a log cabin for herself. Sarahlee accomplishes this enormous feat with the help of her father but must do all of the designing, purchasing of product and basic construction on her own. Her dad helps as needed. For such a young girl, I cannot imagine having the stamina, determination and drive to complete all of the work that she did.

This memoir will instill greatness in any one who embraces the opportunity to read it. My regret is that this book did not exist when I was young. It would have made a great difference in my life them, but is still an inspiration today, for me.

(This is not a book I knew of until Amazon suggested in their regular e-mails. Thank you Amazon!) Autumn Oak
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