Book review: ‘The River at Night’ will appeal to outdoor enthusiasts
Upon returning to the Yampa Valley after a long vacation back East, I bumbled into the bookstore looking for a decent, quick read to enjoy on these welcomed rainy days. Scanning Off the Beaten Path's new paperback fiction section, my pointer finger landed on Erica Ferenick's "The River at Night." As a whitewater enthusiast and sucker for a well-designed cover, I plucked it off the shelf and brought it home.
The opening chapters start off a bit slow, establishing characters and setting up the plot. Wini, a neurotic divorcee who is still reeling from her brother's death, narrates the yearly summer vacation taken with three old girlfriends. The trip, organized by Wini's seemingly superwoman friend, Pia, involves a nine-hour drive to Northern Maine outpost, a muddy drive into the bush, and a lengthy hike to the edge of a pristine, not-yet-commercialized river. Led by a young, handsome raft guide, who has private access to the river put-in, the ladies embark on the true adventure: a 30 mile trek downstream, through the thick of the uncivilized Allagash Wilderness.
Initially and predictably, the trip starts out positively. A few physical bumps and minor disagreements between the friends during the first two days reveals personal paranoia and unresolved issues. On the third day, an unavoidable accident derails the entire excursion and places the women in a risky situation.
Ferenick, at this point, takes a page from James Dickey's "Deliverance" and injects feral savages into the plot. Encounters with these brutish people add a psychological thrill to the already gripping story. The group begins to question themselves and their own alliances, openly wondering if trusting these new humans will prove fatal.
"The River at Night" is certainly less physically gruesome than "Deliverance," but still manages to pull through with exciting prose, all the while providing excellent depth to the multi-layered female friendships at the heart of the novel.
"The River at Night" will appeal to any outdoor enthusiast looking for a good, fast-paced mystery. Ferenick writes about the moving water in a way that only John Wesley Powell could best. Following this novel downstream felt physical: the shocking cold, the pulsing murmurs, the rushing flows, the slicked rocks. It will also appeal to anyone interested in the dynamics of long friendships — specifically, why they matter and how they endure.
I managed to finish this book quickly one rainy evening earlier this week. The Yampa Valley seemed ominous from my bedroom window, matching the mood of the book itself. It was a perfect fit; a haunting book for a gloomy night. I crawled into bed creepily satisfied.
- Recommended by Victoria