A Nominee for the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe Awards
"A fiery tour de force… I could not put this book down. It truly was terrifying and unutterably beautiful." –Alison Borden, The Denver Post
From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars, the story of two college students on a wilderness canoe trip--a gripping tale of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence
Wynn and Jack have been best friends since freshman orientation, bonded by their shared love of mountains, books, and fishing. Wynn is a gentle giant, a Vermont kid never happier than when his feet are in the water. Jack is more rugged, raised on a ranch in Colorado where sleeping under the stars and cooking on a fire came as naturally to him as breathing. When they decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada, they anticipate long days of leisurely paddling and picking blueberries, and nights of stargazing and reading paperback Westerns. But a wildfire making its way across the forest adds unexpected urgency to the journey. When they hear a man and woman arguing on the fog-shrouded riverbank and decide to warn them about the fire, their search for the pair turns up nothing and no one. But: The next day a man appears on the river, paddling alone. Is this the man they heard? And, if he is, where is the woman? From this charged beginning, master storyteller Peter Heller unspools a headlong, heart-pounding story of desperate wilderness survival.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Two college friends take a trip to get away from it all—and wind up in a fight for their lives. Peter Heller’s slow-burning thriller follows Jack and Wynn as they travel to the whitewater rapids of northern Canada to indulge their shared love of adventure. It turns out Mother Nature is in no mood to play nice, and neither, apparently, are the other humans they encounter along their journey. Heller’s economical prose—which recalls the writing in Ernest Hemingway’s and Jack London’s man-against-nature sagas—makes The River both suspenseful and tender, a stark portrait of a friendship driven to the brink.
Heller (Celine) explores human relationships buffeted by outside forces in his suspenseful latest. The central friendship is between two young men, Wynn and Jack, students who have taken a leave of absence from Dartmouth to explore the Canadian wilderness. Their late summer canoe trip, however, finds them pursued by two dangerous natural foes a rapidly advancing wildfire and the equally swift approach of freezing temperatures. Their trip is further complicated when the two men's intervention in a domestic drama results in the addition of a deeply traumatized woman, Maia, to their traveling party. Short on supplies, racing against disaster toward civilization, Jack and Wynn's loyalties to one another are repeatedly strained. Jack and Wynn who are both effortlessly erudite while also seemingly adept at virtually every skill of the outdoorsman may be too well-rounded to be entirely believable. Their motivations are convincing, however, especially when nature's violence rekindles Jack's memories of his mother's accidental death years earlier. Maia, conversely, can at times feel more like a plot device than like a woman with an inherently dramatic story of her own. Nevertheless, with its evocative descriptions of nature's splendor and brutality, Heller's novel beautifully depicts the powers that can drive humans apart and those that compel them to return repeatedly to one another.
As ever, simply beautiful...
Peter Heller is a writer of extraordinary talent, & The River is no exception to his ability to spin tales that are beautiful, engaging, sad & vivid in the descriptions of the land in which the story takes place. This tale of best friends on a summer canoe trip will leave you with a hundred questions... questions that after a while, you’ll realize you don’t actually want answered, because Mr. Heller has done his work well-your own imagination provides a better response than any ‘tie it up with a bow’ epilogue.
Good read with a few irritating flaws.
The story held my interest and kept me coming back for more. Unfortunately there were a few elements that bumped me often enough to keep pulling me out of the world of the two main characters.
First, the author has a background in poetry and while at times the meandering description of the wilderness was beautiful, more often than not it made for a disjointed and choppy reading experience. Particularly in the sections of the book where the action happens quickly and should pull you through to as fast as you can read them. The technical sentence structure, with its free form and poetic style meant I had to re-read sections more often that I’d like to decipher the text.
I also found the protagonists un-relatable in an obnoxious way. These are men of humble upbringings who speak like farm hands and are constantly chewing dip, however they have Ivy League degrees and are great literary scholars? The attempt to give them definition and complexity felt forced and stilted.
I found myself glossing over the sections dealing with their backstories more than I should’ve. I just didn’t feel any connection with either of them.
Overall I felt like the idea behind the story arc was compelling and all of the pieces were there, but the execution and payoff at the end left me feeling incomplete.