Novelist/painter Wharton, whose last book was the nonfiction account of his daughter's tragic death in a car accident (Ever After, 1995), here tackles the more pleasant topic of houseboating on the Seine, with unexpected results. A longtime resident of France, Wharton bought a houseboat ten miles west of Paris with the intention of living there with his schoolteacher wife and children. He fixed it up; it promptly sank. Thus follows a long struggle with this determinedly unfloatable vessel. First, Wharton is nearly skinned alive while attempting to clear the debris out of the sunken boat. (He neglected to wear a wetsuit while performing his rescue mission, unaware that the Renault auto plant upriver had been dumping sulfuric acid into the water.) Next, the vessel is resurrected by the colorful Teurnier brothers, second-generation experts in the field of raising sunken boats. Finally, the author attempts to make the listing wreck watertight--in vain. Teurniers to the rescue! Their ingenious solution: to take a filthy old oil barge--which Wharton and his game family spend three full weekends emptying of oil--and put the houseboat on top of it. The resulting monstrosity is made not merely livable but lovely after much time and hard work by the author, his crew, and the occasional Teurnier brother. Wharton expounds upon the details of these labors--measurements, techniques, and more--in great detail. Now, Wharton and his retired wife live on the boat full-time. It isn't maintenance-free, but it is, finally, charming. Readers expecting charm in this slim volume, however, should beware: Wharton's gritty and unembellished story--an amalgam of boatbuilding manual and memoir of expatriate life--is fascinating but not for the squeamish.