The River at Night
“The River at Night is an engaging story . . .”
White water rafting is not for everyone including Winifred Allen. When her long-standing gal pals suggest the idea, Wini balks at first. A trip down an undulating untamed river is not her favorite way to spend a vacation. She’d much prefer a luxury hotel with all of the amenities. But she and her friends have been getting together for a trip the past 15 years, and it serves as a time for everyone to catch up on each other’s lives. Moreover, Wini is depressed about a failed marriage and the stress of her job, so despite her displeasure about the girls’ suggested trip to the middle of nowhere, Wini decides to go.
The urbanites pack up their vehicle with the latest outdoor gear from high-end stores and begin their journey to the rugged wilderness in Maine. After a long and sometimes harrowing drive from Massachusetts, they reach their destination and meet their guide, Rory, a 20 year old who seems not to have a care in the world and who downplays the inherent dangers of the river that is rarely, if ever, used by tourists.
The three other women, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra, each have their own issues. Pia, de facto leader of the group, deals with self-doubt, and thus constantly challenges herself by engaging in risky behavior. Rachel is a recovering alcoholic and ER nurse who’s had a couple of failed marriages. Sandra is a breast cancer survivor trapped in an abusive marriage. The friends’ yearly trips function to allow escape from their daily problems and strengthen the bonds of their long-standing relationship.
Unfortunately, discord begins from the beginning when Pia becomes intimately involved with their young virile guide. On the very first night, while the group is trying to sleep in their tents, the unmistakable sounds of lovemaking emanate from the shared tent of Rory and Pia. Not only does it make the campers uncomfortable to hear their friend engaged in what should be a private activity, but the women feel Pia has chosen Rory over them and resentment begins to build.
Despite the shaky start, the group embarks on their rafting adventure, and for a while hard feelings are forgotten. But disaster strikes when the raft overturns and the group loses all of their gear, provisions, and most importantly, their guide. As they each try to survive, hope arrives in the form of smoke rising above the forest from the top of a hill. The women struggle to climb the steep grade, hoping the source of the fire will lead to their rescue. What they find might only lead to their demise.
Erica Ferencik’s description of the raging river and surrounding wilderness is beautifully written. Her words transport the reader to the scene, giving a feeling of watching the story as it unfolds. She uses the senses to describe both the river and surrounding wilderness. The characters, however, could have used a bit more development, particularly Rory. And while it’s hard to care much for Wini in the early stages of the novel, one warms to her as time goes on. She eventually morphs from a weak character to a strong, decisive protagonist.
Anyone who has not been white water rafting, or even camping, will enjoy this story. The author describes the rugged nature of living in the woods, as well as the dangers involved using an inexperienced guide with a carefree attitude. Injury and death are constant companions in the wild. Anyone who doesn’t accept that reality will surely be at risk. The River at Night is an engaging story that should please many readers.