Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Review of The River by Peter Heller

As with many, if not most novels in the 21st century, Peter Heller's The Dog Stars was a mix of genres. Post-apocalypse and outdoor survival, Heller nevertheless told a traditional tale of heroism and romance that hearkened back to the golden era of fiction. Continuing in this vein with a more relatable apocalypse is The River (2019).

Best friends Jack and Wynn have set out into the deep wilderness of Canada for a two-week canoe trip. Dropped off in the middle of nowhere, they are surprised to to run into a couple of other parties on the river. They meet a pair of drunk rednecks, who are quickly left behind. But they never have a chance to meet the second pair; only the sound of the couple's argument can be heard carrying through the trees. But nothing prepares them for a forest fire appearing on the horizon. Jack and Wynn outdoor veterans, however, they proceed carefully. But no matter how cautious they are, some things simply cannot be prepared for.

If The Dog Stars was anything, it was an easy read. Heller put everything on the page in simple yet escalating form. The reader could relax and escape into he story. In The River, Heller changes the setting but keeps this mode the same. The reader can once again sit back and be taken on a canoe trip that escalates into hell. It's good entertainment.

As also with The Dog Stars, Heller depends on a small handful of tried and trued plot devices guaranteed to generate drama. Suspense of disbelief required at the door, what starts as an honest wilderness journey slowly ramps up—domestic violence, rapists, and forest fires all coming out of the literal and proverbial wood work. This is a thriller.

The River thus makes for good bedtime reading. Little concentration required, Heller takes readers on a dramatic ride through the Canadian wilderness . This reviewer will not be jumping on the “literary thriller” hype train. The novel is mainstream.. fiction through and through. The fact that the outdoorsmen starring in the novel happen to be a little more cosmopolitan than the average lumberjack, and the fact that Heller parallels the loss of one of the main characters with losses that occur during the trip, does not make the novel 'literary'. This is entertainment—easy reading, engaging entertainment, and likely more for an audience who likes outdoor activities.

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