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by Erica Ferencik
Gallery/Scout Press, January 2017
304 pages
ISBN: 1501143190

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This book inspired me to do something I don't ever remember doing before. As soon as I read the last word, I went right back to the beginning and started again. As I was reading the book the first time, I knew that I was reading beautiful passages about the backwoods of Maine and the powerful river that flows there, but I also couldn't stop to appreciate the writing since the plot was compelling me forward relentlessly. The only way to get a full appreciation of the language was to go back, reread, and focus on Ferencik's skill. The author begins a sustained metaphor of the river as a sensate being at the characters' first encounter with the water, and this metaphor bubbles up throughout the book, even in the midst of thrilling action and danger. She describes the forest's beauty in all its lushness, and she makes us feel the way that the very health and thickness of the foliage help create a contradictory sense of menace and disease. Her characterization is equally complex, presenting true to life portrayals of women's relationships that provide both sustenance and angst for each of those involved.

The book is written in the first person from one of the women's, Wini's, perspective. She and three of her college friends get together every year for some sort of vacation. This year, they are on an adventure, rafting down an extremely remote river with a man half their age to guide them. There are shades of Deliverance here, but although Ferencik calls upon some of the same themes, she manages to keep the plot from being derivative. The women's solidarity is threatened by the physical challenges of the trip, the relationship between the guide and one of the group, isolated rural hillbillies, wild animals, and their own individual insecurities. Wini's background emerges over the course of the book, and it provides context to much of the action. There is a depth to the characterization that is rare in such a plot-driven thriller. The scenes of exposure and terror on the river are so realistic that emerging from the pages feels like relief almost like awakening from a nightmare.

In the end, whether you are most interested in reading a character-based novel, a plot-driven novel, or a book that immerses you in a setting, you will find something to grasp you in THE RIVER AT NIGHT.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, January 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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