Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review: THE RIVER AT NIGHT by Erica Ferencik

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik is an exceptionally good thriller which is both a psychological thriller and an action thriller. Four women in their late thirties, friends since they were teenagers twenty years ago in Boston, meet every year for an annual trip and reunion. Winifred "Wini" Allen is the protagonist and first-person narrator. Wini still lives in Boston has a dead-end job graphic designer job at a magazine, an ex-husband who cheated on her, and a recent family tragedy (her younger brother Marcus died). She lacks self-esteem, but she has moxie and is steadfast.  Wini swims every morning at a local indoor pool, and the water may be the one place where she feels strong. 

Wini's friend Pia Zanderlee is "that friend you love with a twinge of resentment," tall, athletic, blonde, gorgeous, charismatic and adventurous and, like Wini, still living in Boston. Pia has decided that this year's gathering of the four friends will be a white water rafting trip in the wilds of Maine, with a twenty-year-old college student Rory Eckhart as their rafting/hiking guide. Wini balks, but Pia says their other two friends are on board.  Rachel is a petite, pragmatic, and feisty ER nurse who left Boston for Philadelphia. She is a recovering alcoholic who has been living sober for many years. Sandra Kato-Lewis, a beautiful college professor in Chicago, and a mother of two in her third marriage. Sandra has been Wini's strongest support through her recent difficulties. 

Three months later on Thursday, June 21st, Wini, Pia, Rachel and Sandra are loading up their expensive hiking and rafting gear in Pia's car and driving hundreds of miles north to Maine. The first night is spent at a base camp, and Wini frets because she finds that rough and wonders how she will manage to get through the next four days in the forest and on the river. Turns out Wini was right to worry.

The River at Night is, in many ways, a twenty-first century feminist version of James Dickey's classic survival novel Deliverance. (Ferencik even has a tribute to James Dickey, since the base camp is located in a tiny Maine town called Dickey.) Erica Ferencik deals with themes of close friendship, of urban dwellers in the wild, and of human nature's own savagery. She also examines the savagery of female friendships. 

"On the surface it might have been about fun or feeling glamorous or exploring someplace new, but when the world, including our own families, got us down or turned its back on us, we were our own family. Dysfunctional in our own female-friendship way; but our bonds were unbreakable."

This trip and its unexpected hardships and horrors certainly tests their friendships.  These women know each other's buttons--they may have even contributed to placing them on one another's psyches. Yet, they love one another fiercely, and only by acting as one unit do they have any chance of surviving.

Ericka Ferencik's writing is both lyrical and realistic. Through Wini's first-person narrative she shows the reader both the internal and the external environment of the setting and the characters. Also, setting is a character. Witnessing the evolution of Wini is spectacular. The descriptions of nature are stunning, as it can be beautiful and cruel, often simultaneously. The pacing of this thriller is perfection. As Dickey's book was adapted into a classic film, my hope is that a producer options this incredible story and makes a film out of it. But read the book first! The River at Night is a captivating, multilevel thriller which you will not soon forget.

Thank you to the publisher Scout Press/Gallery Books which allowed me to read The River At Night through NetGalley. Publication Date: January 10, 2017  Length: 304 pages