The River at Night – Erica Ferencik, 2014. 4/5
We all have that friend, right? The shining star with her infectious charisma and almost obnoxious joie de vivre, throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude whom we’d follow to the ends of the earth – despite the gut-level misgivings we may have?
In The River at Night, Pia is that friend for her small posse of forty-something BFFs, Win, Rachel and Sandra. Seemingly unlike Pia, the three are weighted down with mid-life baggage: Win is suffering the loss of her special needs brother; Rachel, a brittle ER nurse counts the days of her sobriety; and Sandra struggles with an abusive husband.
For their yearly weekend get-together, Pia convinces the three to go white water rafting on an uncharted river in remote northern Maine. This is well outside the three ladies’ comfort zone, but they agree with a mixture of fear and exhilaration.
What could possibly go wrong? Lots. Lots and lots of things could – and do – go wrong. Kind of north woods, Deliverance-level wrong. This girls-weekend-out turns into a survival thriller.
Through the eyes of our narrator, Win, the most fearful of the group, we experience both the beauty of the outdoors and its terrors. We appreciate the give and take of friendships: from an initial tiff that exposes tiny slivers of resentment towards Pia, to the ladies’ trial-by fire (well, water) empowerment, to the overarching love the women have for each other.
That’s all good stuff, but the book really takes off with its river sequences. Ferencik treats us to some great physical action writing: graphic description and vivid, immediate detail. You’re in the raft – or more likely out of the raft – with the women, struggling to swim, surface, breathe, survive. My tiny cavil? I personally wished for just a little …more… at the very end. Just a little. Still, the book is a stunner.
The River at Night reads as fast and frenetic as screaming down the high slide at a waterpark, its increasingly frenetic pace mirroring the growing desperation of the women. If you have a fear of water, this will be an especially white-knuckle read for you. A great summer read. That is, as long as you’re safe on shore.