Waterborne by Bruce Murkoff Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In 1922, a report issued to the United States Congress recommended the construction of a dam on the Colorado River in the vicinity of Boulder Canyon, Nevada. It would not be until 1931 that the Bureau of Reclamation would award the bid for the construction of the Boulder Dam to the construction and engineering firm known as the Six Companies. The first concrete at the dam site finally was poured in June, 1933.

During the 1930's, the United States was suffering through the Great Depression. Millions of people had difficulty making ends meet, and there was very little in which Americans, collectively, could take pride. The construction of the dam was a bold stroke taken by a government that needed to make such a gesture, resulting in the largest public works project that the United States had undertaken to date. The dam officially was completed on March 11, 1936. Boulder Dam was the world's highest and largest of its day.

The reservoir, Lake Mead, that was formed by the dam has a capacity of more than thirty-one million acre-feet of water. Lake Mead would remain the largest reservoir in the world until 1959. Through an act of Congress, the name of the dam officially was changed to Hoover Dam in 1947. Within this historical backdrop, Bruce Murkoff has created in his first novel a gripping story of three people who get caught up in the transformation of the Nevada desert.

The narrative spends a great deal of time leading up to the construction of Boulder Dam. The first half of Waterborne alternates among the lives of the three lead characters before they converge on the construction area in 1932. Filius Poe grew up in Wisconsin, where he learned to appreciate what the wilderness had to offer. Water as a life force plays a very prominent role in his story and throughout the novel. At a young age, Poe became enamored with figuring out how things worked. He set his sights on bringing order to the world wherever possible. As a child, he received parental love and encouragement. With this solid foundation, Poe made his way into the world with a confidence that served him well. For example, at seventeen, he took it upon himself to build a boat. He became obsessed with every detail and even created a scale model before building the full-sized Alpha Dory.

World War I was coming to an end when Poe reached his eighteenth birthday. By the time he was nineteen, he was a “third-year engineering student, already published in technical journals, courted by prestigious firms in Chicago and New York and by the Bureau of Reclamation in Washington, D.C.” A young coed, Addie McCabe, interviewed him for the Badger Herald. She was a journalism major, and it was her assignment to get the scoop on this up-and-coming engineering star. Her interview with Poe led to a first date, which led to a relationship and eventually to marriage and a honeymoon in Paris. This storybook love affair is handled in a flashback with care and good humor by Murkoff. He avoids sentimentality at all cost. Poe is truly the emotional center of the novel, so Markoff does well here by not overplaying his hand.

After the honeymoon, Poe went to work for the Chicago Tunnel Company as a superintendent. Part of his job was to inspect railroad tunnels that ran forty feet below the streets of Chicago. Even with his tiring work, Poe found it difficult to sleep. Restless, he could not resist the challenges presented him whenever an interesting new engineering project emerged. By 1931, Poe and Addie had an eight-year-old son, Ray, whom they adored. During the summer of that year, the Poe family was on Lake Michigan in a...

(The entire section is 1481 words.)