The River at Night / Erica Ferencik
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at 11:50AM
Dark Scribe Magazine in Book Reviews

Gallery/Scout Press / January 2017
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Four longtime friends—Winifred, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra—embark on what’s supposed to be a rejuvenating hiking and rafting excursion through Maine’s desolate Allagash Wilderness. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Anyone who is familiar with well-tread thriller and horror tropes will be able to spot the set-up from a mile away, but what sets Ferencik’s danger-in-the-woods novel apart from similar tales is her relentless, breakneck pacing. It’s a fast-paced 304 pages that whips the reader to and fro, jostling with its unpredictable plot twists and breathtaking tempo.

Ferencik ably establishes her four leads early on so that their bond—even when the complexities of adulthood threaten its stability at times—is believably strong enough to be their greatest defense once the proverbial shit hits the fan. And hit the fan it does. In the aftermath of what appears at first to be a freak rafting accident that leaves the women stranded, separated from both their raft and supplies, they glimpse a fire burning on the mountainside. This leads them to a ramshackle camp and what appears to be their lifeline. Suffice to say—so as not to give too much of the plot away—it’s not.

The River at Night will immediately call to mind images of wilderness survival films like (most obviously) The River Wild with dashes of Deliverance and Wrong Turn layered in to keep the proceedings appropriately foreboding and, ultimately, bloodcurdling. The scares merge with the adventure elements of Ferencik’s story, imbuing it with a white-knuckle tension that’s the literary equivalent of a spiraling whitewater rafting ride down the rapids. Ferencik’s prose—while economical—is visceral and lush, adding a satisfying literary feel that never detracts from the high-octane action.  

Ferencik is to be commended for the balance she strikes between plot and character. While The River at Night is an adventure story at its core, it also delves into the larger ruminations of women at the crossroads of midlife. At the story’s onset, each of the women embark upon their trip carrying metaphorical baggage with them—addiction, abusive relationships, grief, illness, and loneliness. But the dire circumstances they soon find themselves it cause them to emblematically shed those weighty inner burdens, summoning their individual and collective strength to survive and overcome the extreme physical threats they’re faced with. One of those threats—the raging river and savage terrain of the surrounding wilderness—becomes a central character itself under Ferencik’s steady, guiding hand. And, like all well-crafted characters, it slowly reveals itself—idyllic and serene at first glance but with an unrelenting, raw brutality lurking underneath its verdure on closer inspection.  

The River at Night is the quintessential page-turner and highly recommended reading material for those summertime camping trips. With relatable, well-drawn characters and a high-speed narrative that may leave you breathless at points, Ferencik’s cinematic novel may have you fantasy casting Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra long into the night as this reviewer did.

Purchase The River at Night by Erica Ferencik.

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