The River at Night by Erica Ferencik was surprisingly good as an adventure book. This might be sexist of me, but I always expect books about a group of women to have more substance than say, The Expendables II. But The River at Night is just a fun, thrill-ride with a bunch of normal people with a simple plot. They’re a bunch of school chums, getting on in age, who go white-water rafting in a remote part of Maine, who happen to all be women.
When I read the blurb, I knew that there would be killer hill jacks in it. Spoiler alert! Of course, there are! It’s not really even a surprise! But the book is really good. The River at Night is a book about survival, about how it easy to forget that we are animals who are always a few steps away from having to fight for our lives from predators, and how, alone, humans aren’t really that tough.
And yes, I was thinking of Deliverance the whole way through. The movie has sort of overshadowed the book in popular culture, but James Dickey’s book is a true classic of what it means to fight for your life unexpectedly. By the way — another minor spoiler, something I was worried about the whole time — yes, it’s a female Deliverance story, but there’s no rape. There’s even a guy who you think is going to be a rapist, but isn’t. I was very pleased.
In the way of action movies, like The Expendables II, the setup is a little clunky. The dialogue in the first, oh, 80 pages, is brutally bad, like a subpar after-school special with conversations veering from the mundane to the shrieking without any warning. Lots of “Don’t you get it?” If this was a movie, I’d blame the director and say that there’s a tone problem. Be prepared for a stylized ride into people constantly proclaiming in dialogue exactly what kind of person that they are.
This book is all about the adventure sequences.
Ferencik does not really have an ear for dialogue and doesn’t use it much, but her nature writing is amazing. the second the ladies get in the water, the book becomes breathtaking. When the ladies are in the white-water rapids or running from killer hillbillies, this book is truly amazing and comes alive. White-water rafting is dangerous. Just because most people survive, doesn’t mean that nature isn’t predisposed to kill you. And for all those people who think that they could swim in white-water, you can’t. The moment someone falls in the water will show you that nature is, ultimately, in charge of everything.
There are only so many complications you can have in the woods and Ferencik also does a reasonably good job of having them be surprising. Like I said, hillbillies, but at least they’ve got an interesting back story and emphasize that there is more than a little mental illness going on. Also, just their need for water becomes very interesting. And how long does it take before you eat something truly disgusting? Not long!
If you’re looking to while a way a few fun hours with an exciting book and you’ve already read Deliverance, pick this one up!