Winifred Allen needs a vacation.
She, along with three of her friends, decide that vacation is going to be rafting down a virtually uncharted section of the Allagash River, led by an “experienced” 20 year old named Rory. What could possibly go wrong?
If your go-to answer isn’t “Everything!”, than this isn’t the book for you – because the answer, my dear readers, is always everything.
The River at Night begins innocently enough, despite Wini’s doubts about the trip. She’s a thirty something graphic designer; stifled by a job she’s not passionate about, still mourning the recent loss of her brother. Pia, the leader of the group, is the go, see, do type of vacationer, while the others want a warm beach and tequila. In the end, Pia wins, and they go rafting.
If the four inexperienced friends venturing out to an isolated part of a river to raft through the wilderness sounds familiar, that’s because it is. James Dickey’s ode to masculinity Deliverance* followed much the same premise, with the same disastrous results**. Despite the similarities, I appreciated The River at Night on its own adventurous merits. I’m in what I’ll refer to as a get back to nature phase; because I cannot get enough of novels that, well, get back to nature. And this book delivers just that. Heart pounding rapids, murderous hillbillies, and pervasive, wild isolation attack the women and their guide as the make their way down the river. Ferencik prose absolutely oozes dread, so there’s no surprise when things go wrong.
Down a short dirt drive, a log cabin butted up into a hillside, a satellite dish stuck to its flank like a wart. A wooden sign that read sundries/guns/tackle/bait hung askew over the door. A smaller sign underneath – an afterthought – read Carhartt Quality Boots. A yellow light burned behind glaucous windows. Heavy pine branches clawed at the car as Pia crawled along the shoulder. I was struck by the sameness of the view in all directions, the sheer density of growth, and how easy it would be to lose our way just steps from where we sat. I felt watched, though I couldn’t remember feeling farther from civilization.
It’s how, why, and what they do in response that keeps you reading. Survival against all odds will always be a fascinating story. Despite the premise, I still find myself want to raft through the Allagash wilderness, so I’ll call Ferencik’s debut a success.
Though it’s a shame there isn’t a banjo.
*Deliverance is one of my favorite novels.
**Incidentally, the book touches on Dickey, Maine, which is a real place. A rather charming coincidence.