One windy night on the Willamette River, a young man with romantic notions of a sailing life crashes his boat into a railroad bridge, nearly killing his wife. Divorced, ashamed, and haunted by the tragedy, Chad tries to leave the river and its memories behind, only to be drawn back years later. At a ramshackle marina north of Portland, he lives and works among a motley assortment of houseboat dwellers and liveaboards, each with their own story and their own reasons to distrust or embrace a newcomer who can’t quite commit to being one of them.
There’s Dory and Marge, one a dreamer, the other a purveyor of hot dogs and gossip, necessary glue for a community literally tied together in the current; there’s Barry, the Catholic priest who has lost his faith; Bernice and Bill, a perfect couple on the verge of fracturing; and there’s Jack, who has lived on the river his entire life—before speedboats, before electricity, and before shotguns went out of style as a way of settling disputes.
As the seasons bring changes to the river, Chad and this makeshift community change each other in unexpected ways, learning to love, to trust, and to heal.
At the Waterline is a quintessential Portland story from a time before the city was anointed one of the country’s top travel destinations. Whether you’re in town visiting or have lived here for years, this window into the colorful lives of local author Brian K. Friesen’s characters offers a unique perspective on Portland and the surrounding area. For ideas on how to use the novel as guidebook to explore Chad, Jack, and Dory’s world, visit our Google Map and comprehensive guide here.
Author Brian Friesen lived aboard a 29-foot Ericson called Star Fox and a 33-and-a-half-foot Hunter called The Arctic Loon alternately for three years. His time spent working in various marinas along the Columbia River immersed him in the gritty reality of river-community life. Brian was the recipient of the James Patrick Folinsbee Award for creative writing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, where he received his Master of Arts degree in English. He is an active member of the Portland literary scene, and his stories and essays have appeared in R.K.V.R.Y. Literary Journal, The Music Liberation Project, The Portland Spectator, and A Write Around Portland Anthology. He works for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“One of those books that hooks you on the first page but then slows down to reel you in. As … events unfurl in the lives of an eccentric collection of river dwellers, Friesen’s novel gradually reveals a great truth: that every life—every life—hides remarkable drama and overpowering tragedy.” — Molly Gloss, author of The Jump-Off Creek and The Hearts of Horses
“A Fine New Northwest Book. This is a satisfying, believable book well worth reading. Each section of At the Waterline pulled me into the next, and each character made me want to know more about the others. As the book goes on, more and more stories come together, stories that work at two levels. Some are open, public, everyday stories (how we present ourselves). Others are far more private, below the waterline.” — Marjorie Burns
Staff Pick at Powell’s Burnside: “A man’s life falls apart and he moves to live along the river in Portland. This story moves like a river, reflecting and always changing.”
Sailing Over the Horizon; Landing Someplace NewWith a couple cracks of thunder, a light hail baptism, and an enthusiastic welcome from an amazing crowd, At the Waterline was launched into the world (and onto the Powell’s staff picks shelf!). If you’ve been following our journey, you already know what Team Rivers has been up to. We helped Brian edit his manuscript, we added maps and diagrams, we dreamed up a killer marketing campaign, and we planned a citywide celebration to top it all off. At the Waterline is sailing smoothly into readers’ lives, with lots of fun stops planned for the future. It’s the nature of the publishing process that eventually we have to let one book go and turn our attention to the next. But before At the Waterline slips over the horizon on its world tour, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the crew that helped make her seaworthy.