Reviews

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.

Miscellanea

Room // Six Degrees of Separation

RoomThe movie edition!

The idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun. April’s leading book is Room by Emma Donohue.

Room was adapted into an award winning movie starring Brie Larson. While I’ve not read that particular book, Brie Larson also starred in the fun and dysfunctional The Spectacular Now (which I did read), as the girl who dumped the boy. The boy finds solace in a new girl, played by Shailene Woodley, who refuses to be a feminist because she likes men. Fifty billion eyerolls, if you please.

Woodley also stars in The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings with George Clooney. My favorite Clooney movie is O Brother, Where Art Though?, which is loosely based of The Odyssey by Homer.

Costarring in said favorite Clooney movie is John Turturro, who appears in another one of my personal favorites, The Big Lebowski. That movie is loosely based on the work of Raymond Chandler, who wrote The Big Sleep. Jeff Bridges, who will always be The Dude to me, also appeared in True Grit (by Charles Portis) with Hailee Steinfeld.

And lastly, Ms. Steinfeld appeared in Hateship, Loveship, an adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story.

There you have it, from being locked in a room to a childhood game, in six easy steps, yet none of them literary… Care to join in?

 

Reviews

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Hearts of menI am, barring any unseen literary missteps, now a lifelong fan of Nickolas Butler. Beginning with the superb Shotgun Lovesongs, following that with Beneath the Bonfire, and now releasing The Hearts of Men, I am absolutely on board with anything he writes. Cereal boxes, Ikea manuals, it doesn’t matter. Beginning at a Wisconsin summer camp in 1962 and spanning six decades, Butler’s newest novel is his best yet.

Nelson, bullied overachiever, is the camp’s bugler. Jonathan is a popular boy at camp. The two form an unlikely and uncertain friendship.

As the years pass, Nelson, a Vietnam veteran, becomes scoutmaster of beloved Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan becomes a successful businessman. They remain connected as both Jonathan’s son and grandson find their way to the camp.

This is not a happy book, and at times it is deeply unsettling, but it is timely. Filled with bravery, morality, and redemption, it shows what the most ordinary of boys and men are capable of. As it examines both Nelson and Jonathan at turning points in their lives, we learn about the ways they are shaped from their childhood, the men they become, and how complicated even the simplest person can be. It will undoubtedly be one of my favorite books this year.

At what point are you willing to read anything an author writes? One good book? Two? Three seems to be my number.

Reviews

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

GuinSarah Domet’s debut novel takes its name from the four protagonists, all named Guinevere and all abandoned at the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent.

Vere, Win, Ginny, and Gwen are desperate to escape their circumstances and hatch a plan to do so during a parade in a float. When that fails, the girls are sentenced to work in the convent’s sick ward, where they hatch yet another plan, this one involving comatose soldiers. They are nothing if not determined.

Each Guinevere has her own voice, though we hear most from Vere. Woven into the girls’ tales are the stories of the lives of various female saints. The nuns generally remain in the background, but are well drawn and not stereotypically Catholic, which I greatly appreciated. The nuns, though strict, genuinely care for the girls.

Rather than a novel about faith, Domet’s debut is instead a wonderful coming-of-age tale. It’s a subtle, complex novel depicting the inner lives of teenage girls, and their search for home and family—a winning combination with lovely writing. Don’t miss it (like I did)!

Miscellanea

Fever Pitch // Six Degrees of Separation

fever pitchBetter late than never should be my new life motto. The idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun.

Fever Pitch is Nick Hornsby’s ode to soccer (or football, depending where you live). Oddly enough, when it was adapted for a film in the US, it was about a fan’s love of the Red Sox. How you get from one to the other, I’m not quite sure, but the love of the Red Sox* inspired the next link.

In Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Trisha, a Red Sox fan, is (nearly) hopelessly lost in the woods. She survives relatively unscathed, but the same can’t be said of the pseudo-outdoorsmen in James Dickey’s Deliverance.

Initially planning on taking a two day canoe trip, the men have a run in with the locals that derails their course. The canoe provides the next link with Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank, a lovely novel about the destruction of a marriage. Schrank detailed his play list on Largehearted Boy. One of the characters was said to enjoy Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Everyone knows that CCR’s hit Bad Moon Rising is the official werewolf anthem, but I specifically assigned it to The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. The novel is a literary take on the werewolf genre, so to speak, just as Colson Whitehead’s Zone One is a literary zombie apocalypse novel.

I once called Zone One “fresh, interesting fiction” and recommended The Sisters Brothers for a similar reading experience. I’m standing by that recommendation now and making it my final link. From a love of soccer to a blood soaked western, all in six easy steps. Care to join in?

*Of note, one of the items on my bucket list was the see the Red Sox play in the world series and I did. I watched them absolutely slaughter the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series (though I only attended one game).

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