Fresh on the heels of 2017 bestseller Celine, Peter Heller has struck gold again with The River, about two college friends whose peaceful camping trip turns into a nightmarish combination of natural dangers, life-threatening disasters and human malice.
Dartmouth classmates Jack and Wynn have cleared a few weeks for fly-fishing and whitewater canoeing in northern Canada. Raised on a ranch in Colorado, Jack finds camping and hunting to be as natural as breathing. Wynn is a gentle soul from rural Vermont whose random trailside installations of stones, twigs and flowers do not take away from his acumen out of doors. The young men share a love of literature and outdoor sport, and imagine their two-week trek to be one of leisurely paddling, blueberry picking and reading around the campfire. This idyll is abruptly shattered when they sniff out the fumes of a swiftly approaching forest fire. Wynn and Jack agree to turn back and warn a couple they heard arguing the day before. This proves to be a fateful decision, as the woman, Maia, is found injured and bloody, and her husband, Pierre, no longer on the scene. The two men, with the badly shocked Maia in tow, are now on the run from the fire and, equally threatening, from a possibly homicidal husband. As if this weren’t bad enough, the crises put a strain on the two men, and an element of mistrust creeps into their friendship.
Masterfully paced and artfully told, The River is a page turner that demands the reader slow down and relish the sheer poetry of the language. Heller is an experienced outdoorsman and has an extensive background in journalism, having written for Outside and Men’s Magazine and with several nonfiction books on surfing, camping and fishing to his long list of credits—and his familiarity with all facets of the river trip shows. Though stories of man versus nature date back to the Odyssey, The River thrills as Heller invites his characters to confront their own mortality without losing sight of the deep connections between humans and their environment.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Peter Heller for The River.