Shooting the Boh : A Woman's Voyage Down the Wildest River in Borneo

by Tracy Johnston

Paperback, 1992

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Vintage Books, 1992.

User reviews

LibraryThing member debnance
...Gimme a second here (pant, pant)... Let me...ugh...rip this leech off my leg... Ouch!...Jeez...another beesting!...And...what?... What the heck is that GROWING ON MY FEET???... Well, I've definitely decided to cross the Boh off my short list for our 25th wedding anniversary trip. Great story. Leaves me asking the question, "Why would someone choose to raft down the wildest river in Borneo?" Side note: Of all the horrors Johnston described, the most terrifying to me was the onset of menopause.… (more)
LibraryThing member kaionvin
The thing is, I don't think Tracy Johnston is a bad writer. I think she's a good writer buried under a ton of bad writing habits. And the source material for her travel memoir is fantastic: a nightmare rafting trip down a stretch of the Boh river never before traversed, organized poorly and with little preparation by a company who mistakenly advertised it as only a medium-difficulty three-day sojourn. (It turned to 11.)

Johnston's bad writing habits:
1. She uses zippy magazine-y cliches to describe everything, the end result being not only banal but also often puzzlingly unclear. 'The men wore sunglasses and pressed white shirts, like mobsters'- has she met mobsters? Or is she referring to her movie-inspired mental image of mobsters? Are pressed white shirts and sunglasses that uncommon in her experience?
2. She pays lip service to socio-political ideas (environmentalism, globalization of capitalism, etc.) she has no particular interest in actually backing up, examining, or in general, having any original thoughts about whatsoever. As a result, she often sounds like she's parroting stuff back read in a newspaper.
3. She has an unclear sense of chronology in telling a story. First, the year references that date the story are contradictory (this trip is either before 1982 or after 1986). Of greater annoyance, she often switches between in-moment narrative and post-narrative in telling her story. Johnston frequently refers to some information she learned later in the trip and then repeats it when she gets to that point in the story as if she'd forgotten it was already covered, and furthermore confuses the chronology of knowledge when it comes to learning about her fellow rafters.
4. She's obsessed with all her fellow rafters' bodies, to the point you wish she'd just proposition one or all of them already or at least crack open a thesaurus to find new, less painfully similar phrases to describe all of them.
5. She restates the incredibly obvious frequently and with great aplomb. After obsessing the whole trip about the onset of her menopause, she plops this gem: 'As for me, in hindsight I see that my own journey did not end with the Boh: the river was in some ways a metaphor for my voyage into middle age.'
6. She's incapable of describing nature without resorting quickly to quoting or paraphrasing other travel writers on their much more interesting and culturally-exploratory travels to Borneo.
7. She's incapable of describing philosophical thoughts about nature without resorting quickly to quoting or paraphrasing novelists or other writers. She repeatedly uses 'Conradian' as a descriptive adjective.

... And did I mention the magazine-y melodramatics about becoming middle-aged?

There is an interesting story under all this terrible writing. A classic one, sure, about the white people who ignore the natives' stories of the river that hits a huge mountain, flows under the earth, and has a fearsome three-headed spirit. About adventure seeking and changing your lifestyle, maybe.

I leave you with one more prime quote: 'She was big-thighed and big-breasted, muscular and strong. Olatz was a kitten; Sylvie a racehorse.'
… (more)

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