The River – Peter Heller

theriverThis book is often described as being “unputdownable” and “riveting” and is supposed to “make your heart race,” but I didn’t find that to be the case. Many reviewers did have that experience, so I hate to dissuade anyone from reading it.

An intriguing premise: two college buddies canoe a river in northern Canada and are faced with an unexpected, ferocious wildfire, burdened with an injured passenger, and there is possibly a killer stalking them. They have to battle nature and maniacal river folk and try not to starve to death, burn up, or drown, and make it to the village, a few days’ paddling away. Sounds exciting, right?

So, let’s break the mild, inchoate tension and talk about fly fishing for a few paragraphs. And maybe throw in pages of description of the river current, the birds, and irrelevant flashbacks of tragic childhoods. A list of gear, with brand names and specifications, is also helpful in tamping down any possible interest the reader may have developed. This book often reads like an REI catalog. There is some rudimentary buildup when the two men’s relationship begins to disintegrate over how they interpret the possible dangers. Jack gets a little paranoid, Wynn is too naive, but this fizzles out. And once things actually happen, the excitement is smothered with an epilogue.

Though the author obviously knows what he’s talking about vis-a-vis wilderness/river survival (at least, I assume he does, knowing very little of such things myself), it’s repetitive. There are lengthy, lush descriptions of the environment, of paddling techniques, of fly fishing, of berry picking. They camp, fish, take inventory of their supplies ad nauseam, tend to the injured. The story would be thrilling, but the tense moments are interrupted with long periods of the mundane.

Many thanks to Penguin First to Read for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

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