Canoeing With Jose
By Jon Lurie. (Milkweed Editions, 328 pages, $16.)

 

Eric Sevareid’s 1935 wilderness classic “Canoeing With the Cree” fired the imagination of many armchair adventurers with its seat-of-the-pants account of two paddlers’ journey from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay.

One of those readers was Minneapolis journalist Jon Lurie. In 2006, following a divorce and a period of crippling depression, he decided to retrace the journey of Sevareid and fellow paddler Walter Port.

Lurie, who is white, enlisted a Lakota-Puerto Rican former student, Jose, who was running from his own personal battles and street feuds. The two set off on the Red River, barely prepared for the 2,000-mile odyssey ahead.

What follows is part travelogue, part cultural memoir, as the two men struggle with harsh weather, dangerous rapids, long portages, black flies and personality clashes.

Jose is a reluctant companion, and Lurie fears he’ll abandon the trip in Winnipeg. But as the pair move north, Jose encounters other native men, who welcome and respect him in a way he hasn’t experienced before.

In Lurie’s account, published more than a decade after his trip, the prose is sometimes choppy and abrupt. But “Canoeing With Jose” also has moments of deep beauty and humor, such as when Jose stops paddling in a maelstrom to play air guitar to Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

And it pushes back against the racism in Sevareid’s original account, providing a needed update to an epic journey.

Lurie will be at the Hamline-Midway Library, 1558 W. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul, at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 as part of the Fireside Reading Series. He will also read at the University of Minnesota’s “First Book” event at 7 p.m. March 22 at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.

TRISHA COLLOPY

 

Poison Girls
By Cheryl Reed. (Diversion Books, 374 pages, $15.99.)

As a newspaper reporter, Cheryl Reed spent months writing about young girls addicted to crack cocaine in the 1990s. Then came the current heroin/fentanyl epidemic, which seemed “eerily similar.” Reed decided to update her reporting, but this time in fiction. Her mystery, “Poison Girls,” follows the gritty adventures of Natalie Delaney, a crime reporter for the struggling Chicago Times, when teenage girls from prominent families are found dead of fentanyl-laced heroin overdoses.

Natalie senses that these were not ordinary ODs, and she sets out to find the true story behind the breaking news. She attaches herself to two girls who are dabbling in the demi-world of drugs and traces unlikely links between South Side drug dealers and the city’s power brokers. As the death toll rises, she finds herself chasing one of the biggest stories of her life — until she becomes the story.

Reed weaves her years of real experience as a journalist into the narrative, bringing the reader into the intersecting orbits of newsroom, courtroom and many a barroom. She adds love interests and a tragic back story to soften her obsessive protagonist, and a presidential campaign that will look familiar. With all those layers, the book starts off slow, but a page turner develops as the hidden agendas of teen victims, drug dealers, cops, media and political figures are exposed.

MAUREEN MCCARTHY