Jan/Feb 2017 Reviews & Interviews

The River at Night

The River at Night
Erica Ferencik.
Bloomsbury. 2017. 294 pp.
ISBN 978 1 4088 8658 8.

Review by Ann Skea

Buy now from Amazon! My initial response to this book, based on the first three chapters, was not positive. I find it hard to empathize with a group of middle-aged women who indulge in group hugs, "screaming and laughing," who call each other crazy bitches, and whose response to a sexually aggressive male who addresses them as "muff munchers" and "fuckin' bitches" is to return to their car to "howl with laughter" and enlarge on these insults in similarly crude terms. Maybe that's a healthy response, but it did nothing to improve my first impression of them.

However, once this group of friends reach the remote wilderness area of Maine in which they have booked a white-water rafting adventure, the pace of the novel picks up and their behavior and their interactions with each other change. The reality of being isolated and inexperienced in a wild place begins to sink in—a place where there are many different dangers, no phone signal, no people, and no easy way to get help.

Erica Ferecik writes vividly about the wilderness and especially about the river. Once the white-water rafting begins, she captures the turbulence, danger, thrills, and terrors of this adventure with a sometimes breathtaking realism.

The group, which now includes their young guide, Rory, becomes changed and fragmented. There are accidents and deaths, and the women, individually and together, are faced with desperate choices in their struggle to survive and reach safety.

Fragments of their past lives are woven into the story, but the present dangers are relentless, and when they finally reach what seems to be safety and refuge this turns out to be as life-threatening as the river itself.

So, what begins as a seemingly bland, girly tale turns out to be a gripping wilderness adventure. In terrifying situations each woman learns her strengths and weaknesses. And the fact that these women are not simply youngsters seeking thrills but, as Win (the narrator) puts it, "middle-aged" women "who should have middle-aged concerns," adds another dimension to the story. Win's final words in the book sum this up: "My aging body, my dull job. I mean, really, who cares? I'm alive."

I can't say that I want to go out and seek such an adventure—to experience it vicariously in a novel such as this is thrill enough—but I do approve of the decision these women made to live life to the full.


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