The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

RiverWinifred Allen needs a vacation.

She, along with three of her friends, decide that vacation is going to be rafting down a virtually uncharted section of the Allagash River, led by an “experienced” 20 year old named Rory. What could possibly go wrong?

If your go-to answer isn’t “Everything!”, than this isn’t the book for you – because the answer, my dear readers, is always everything.

The River at Night begins innocently enough, despite Wini’s doubts about the trip. She’s a thirty something graphic designer; stifled by a job she’s not passionate about, still mourning the recent loss of her brother. Pia, the leader of the group, is the go, see, do type of vacationer, while the others want a warm beach and tequila. In the end, Pia wins, and they go rafting.

If the four inexperienced friends venturing out to an isolated part of a river to raft through the wilderness sounds familiar, that’s because it is. James Dickey’s ode to masculinity Deliverance* followed much the same premise, with the same disastrous results**. Despite the similarities, I appreciated The River at Night on its own adventurous merits. I’m in what I’ll refer to as a get back to nature phase; because I cannot get enough of novels that, well, get back to nature. And this book delivers just that. Heart pounding rapids, murderous hillbillies, and pervasive, wild isolation attack the women and their guide as the make their way down the river. Ferencik prose absolutely oozes dread, so there’s no surprise when things go wrong.

Down a short dirt drive, a log cabin butted up into a hillside, a satellite dish stuck to its flank like a wart. A wooden sign that read sundries/guns/tackle/bait hung askew over the door. A smaller sign underneath – an afterthought – read Carhartt Quality Boots. A yellow light burned behind glaucous windows. Heavy pine branches clawed at the car as Pia crawled along the shoulder. I was struck by the sameness of the view in all directions, the sheer density of growth, and how easy it would be to lose our way just steps from where we sat. I felt watched, though I couldn’t remember feeling farther from civilization.

It’s how, why, and what they do in response that keeps you reading. Survival against all odds will always be a fascinating story. Despite the premise, I still find myself want to raft through the Allagash wilderness, so I’ll call Ferencik’s debut a success.

Though it’s a shame there isn’t a banjo.

*Deliverance is one of my favorite novels.
**Incidentally, the book touches on Dickey, Maine, which is a real place. A rather charming coincidence.

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  • Kate

    I need my holidays to be somewhere between the tequila/beach kind and the wilderness/rapids kind. Actually, they need to be closer to the tequila/beach end of the spectrum. That said, one of my most memorable holidays was canoeing through a very remote art of Australia – we happened to go on NYE 1999, and joked that the world may have ended when we reached our end point a week later!

  • Naomi

    I love survival books! Because I haven’t read Deliverance yet, I’m thinking it would be fun to read these back to back!

  • Bonnie

    I also need a vacation but rafting down a river will never be at the top of my list. So this is like female Deliverance? Minus banjos, of course. I might have to check this one out now… even though Deliverance still gives me shivers.

  • Kate Scott

    I really enjoyed this book. I thought the pacing was a little off (too slow in the beginning) but the setting made up for it. I spent summers on the Maine coast as a kid and went to a summer camp NE of Kennebunkport for a couple years. Pretty much all of my best childhood memories are somewhere in the Maine woods, so I will pretty much pounce on any book set there.

    • Rory O’Connor

      Agreed. There was too much focus on the worrying in the beginning. And I used to live in Portland, and my family is still out there, I miss it quite a bit.

      • Kate Scott

        What a coincidence. My brother lives in Portland.

  • Acid Free Pulp

    I enjoyed this book and was totally on board. However, Winifred kept worrying about how bland and middle-aged she was. Someone needs to tell the author that women in their thirties are not middle aged.

    • Rory O’Connor

      Right?! As someone about mid thirties, I am not middle aged, nor do I really consider myself past my prime. She seemed like someone nearly 50 rather than 40.

      Although somehow I stopped aging, in my brain, at about 25. So I constantly still think of myself around that age, despite definitely not being/looking/acting that way.

      • Acid Free Pulp

        Ha! Yes, I had to keep flipping back to suss out their ages because, you’re right, the narrator made it seem like they were all menopausal age.

        I, too, am a “woman in her thirties” and certainly feel like some in-between age. Definitely not past my prime though!

  • mariahelena

    I finally got around to reading this one! I loved the setting and premise, but thought the start was a bit too slow (and all that worrying!) and the conclusion felt a bit rushed.

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