The River

The River

A Novel

Book - 2019 | First edition
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"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 paddles 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?"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2019
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780525521877
Branch Call Number: FIC HEL
Characteristics: 253 pages : illustration ; 22 cm


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The description of this book was so promising, but I couldn't really get into it. Too much back story for each character, too little suspenseful thrill and harrowing survival story for me. I had high hopes based on all the positive reviews, but I just can't recommend it.

Nov 15, 2019

A most enjoyable and quick read. Very good character development of very likeable main characters. A gripping, hard to put down book.

Nov 14, 2019

If you happen to love the great outdoor wilderness, flight of raptors, the burble of the river plus being caught in the path of a wildfire storm, AND have a suspected murder to interfere with your survival then this is your best choice for your next book to read. Heller sure knows his outdoors and describes it in vivid detail. Choices of survival are at the forefront. Would you have made the same decisions?

Oct 07, 2019

The book reminded me of the true story of the misguided murderous teenagers found in the northern wilderness of Manitoba this year (2019). Set in the same area, this suspenseful book kept me on my toes, as did the media coverage of the manhunt for the murder suspects. I felt I was paddling through Canada’s lovely wilderness along with the voyageurs. I loved the author’s earlier work The Dog Stars, a great post-apocalyptic story.

AnnabelleLee27 Sep 14, 2019

A gripping and nuanced tale that explores what happens when two young men are thrust into unexpected, threatening, and converging natural and human dramas. The story is character driven and evocative and not about surprise plot twists and tidy endings and so some readers may find the ending unsatisfactorily abrupt. An enjoyable, quick, unsettling read.

Sep 09, 2019

Great survival tale; couldn't help but hope for the best but brace for the worst. Yes, there were flaws, but overall compelling enough that I will definitely pursue additional offerings by this author.

Sep 05, 2019

This was a beautifully written book. The language and descriptions brought me into the story in a vivid way. My complaint is that the other characters in the wilderness were never fleshed out or explained. What were their backstories? Why were they on the River then? This would have helped me understand their motivations for why they acted as they did toward the main characters.

Hillsboro_JulieB Aug 20, 2019

I've enjoyed other Peter Heller novels and The River can be added to that list. It makes you think about how perception can be affected under the threat of wildfire, starvation, then possibly a killer. How far will you you go to act on your suspicions and the possibility you might be wrong? Doing the right thing can have terrible consequences. Beautiful descriptions of nature will take you along for the ride with Jack and Wynn.
Note: I listened to the audiobook for this one.

SPL_Shauna Aug 07, 2019

Full review available under Summary

Jul 18, 2019

Tuesday August 11, 2020 Evergreen Book Club

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SPL_Shauna Aug 07, 2019

To my mind, there’s nothing cozier than reading a creepy book in a tent by flashlight, as a storm rolls gravelly thunder off the distant granite hills. Each time I camp, I hope for at least one such night, and keep my fingers crossed one of the books I brought fits the bill. Reader, I have found the book for this task.

Peter Heller’s slim novel, The River, is almost a lot of things, and perfectly itself. It’s almost a thriller, but it’s too literary and emotionally honest. It’s almost literary fiction, but there’s too much adventure. It’s almost nature writing, except there’s a darn fine plot and characters that sear into the imagination.

The plot opens with two men, Wynn and Jack, on a bucket list canoe trip down the Maskwa River in Ontario’s far north, headed toward Hudson Bay. Best friends since their first year of college, both are completely at home in the wilderness. Heller himself is avidly outdoorsy, and his knowledge of backcountry survival techniques combine with spare, crystal clear prose to make the dense, murky blue-green wilderness come terrifyingly alive. He captures the exact sound of water running off a paddle in a deadening fog so accurately it makes your hair stand up. This talent lends the first portion of the novel a serene calm we all wish we could capture every trip we take.

It doesn’t take long for the calm to unravel, though. Soon enough, the men meet a couple of rough men in a motorized boat who give them the creeps. Later, they scale a tree when making camp for the night, and discover a large forest fire bearing down in their direction. They furiously calculate what they’d need to do to get past the fire – they’d need to move at an almost inhuman pace. Staying longer isn’t a possibility, as the cold is already beginning to settle into shortened August nights. They resolve to move on fast, but find themselves in a dense fog in the wind-tossed dark – more unsettling since fog and wind are an unnatural pairing. As they fight the whitecaps, they hear what sounds like a domestic dispute. Initially they press on, but then decide they need to find the couple, check on them, and warn them about the fire. They’re nowhere to be found for a few miles - until they find the man without his wife, claiming that she died of a fall, but leaving both Wynn and Jack with a sick sense deep in their bellies.

From here, the story condenses and moves so fast the reader can have a hard time stopping to savour the details, but the details are worthy of pause. The further Wynn and Jack move into the wilderness and the closer they get to the fire, the more tangled they become in the lives of the others trapped on the river trying to outrun the fire. The story builds to a conclusion so sublimely wrought it’s seared into my visual memory.

The River is highly recommended to anyone looking for a more literary thriller, especially those with a passion for the outdoors. Read it in a tent on a stormy night in the backcountry, if you dare.


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