Erica Ferencik makes sure I will never go white water rafting in her latest thriller, The River at Night, an unexpectedly chilling read that transported me to the beautiful, yet incredibly dangerous wilderness of Maine. Following the journey of four long-time friends who want nothing more than a much-needed vacation, The River at Night details the horrors that lie in wait in nature. Full of harsh beauty, Ferencik takes her readers on an unforgettable ride along a river with many personalities, showing just how unpredictable nature truly is.
This review contains spoilers and quotes from the book
Ferencik starts off slow, introducing us to our narrator, Wini, a woman who is bogged down by her emotions following the death of her brother, a divorce and a tedious and slowly dying career as a graphic artist who does touch-up work for a food publication. Through Wini, the reader comes to know the three other women that embody the long-standing group of friends: Pia, Sandra, and Rachel. Each woman has her fair share of baggage that makes the once a year vacation even more important – it offers a chance at catching up (something that becomes increasingly more difficult where friendships are concerned in adulthood) while allowing each woman to escape the boring and rather difficult lives that they have at home.
Although each woman is different, they share deep bonds of friendship that any group of friends can relate to. Inside jokes and memories is just the beginning, as true friends share bonds that go further than that and include the ability to read minds and provide comfort, laughter, and support even in the worst of times.
But there had always been us, bound by invisible golden thread the fifty-one weeks we were apart. Tied in a golden bow the week we spent together. 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.
—excerpt from Erica Ferencik’s The River at Night
Friendship is put to the test, however, when the four women journey to the middle-of-nowhere, Maine to embark on a white water rafting trip. Meant to be an exciting and adventurous experience that will bring all of them together, the camping trip starts out normal. In fact, the level of detail given to the descriptions of the wildest parts of Maine and the roaring river are downright stunning. Despite the sense of foreboding and fear that color the pages of the novel, as the synopsis alone lets you know that something is going to happen, Ferencik’s masterful writing lures the reader into a sense of peaceful calm. As you read, even if you aren’t interested in white water rafting, you will find yourself longing to see the unknown and alluring aspects of nature including the various trees, wildlife and the changes in the river itself which is depicted at some points as incredibly calm, and others, as life-threatening.
As if the river at night possessed the answers, we were quiet, listening to its pulse and hush. It gleamed with remnants of the day until it mirrored the moon in glittering shards. That that too disappeared, as if the river had swallowed it, and the current folded into its nighttime self, braiding and turning like liquid metal in the green and gloom.
—excerpt from Erica Ferencik’s The River at Night
As the events of the novel unfold and the rafting begins, the experience seems fun. Ferencik’s prose pulls you in and you experience every tense and exciting moment as the four women and their guide, Rory, begin their journey down a river with five sections: The Tooth, The Hungry Motherfucker, The Royal Flush, Satan’s Staircase and The Willows. Although full of tension and suspense, the detail and description given to the scenes in the water are incredibly real, which only heightens the sense of fear and anticipation for the reader, who knows that something bad is going to happen. When shit hits the fan and trust me, it does, you will find yourself dreading any kind of outdoor experience for the rest of your life.
The excitement of the white water rafting trip evaporates quickly as the women find themselves stranded without a guide, raft or supplies. Forced to do what they can to survive, they encounter a makeshift house. Inside, they are met with new horrors in the form of a crazy mother who will do anything to hide her secrets and keep her son far from civilization. Faced with the unknown, the women find themselves face to face with incredible danger as they claw their way through the wilderness in search of the safety and comfort of civilization.
The River at Night is full of tension and suspense that will allow you to read the entire book in a single sitting. Just when you think that everything will turn out okay, Ferencik artfully creates a danger that makes you question whether or not the women escape with their lives.