The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
Published by Gallery/Scout Press, 320 pages, $16
This novel offers as many thrills as the whitewater rapids where its four central women go rafting. The Wonder Woman-ish Pia organizes the trip with her friends, cancer survivor Sandra, the blunt, now-sober Rachel and our narrator, Wini, a graphic designer for a food magazine in Boston who’s reeling from two blows: her recent divorce and the loss of her beloved mute brother, Marcus. The foursome is led into the wilds of Maine by a handsome guide, the 20-year-old Rory. But friendships start to splinter as Pia makes noisy love with Rory in the next tent.
Dangers bring exhilaration as the group whooshes through turbulent waters and around car-sized rocks. But suddenly, Rory is killed in an accident, and the women are on their own. After losing their raft, they stumble upon a bizarre duo deep in the woods. Mother Simone lives with her tongue-less son, Dean—there’s a story there— surviving on wild animals whose severed heads adorn their camp. With creepy friendliness, she invites in the four friends. Wini knows signing from communicating with her brother and connects with the confused Dean, who’s been under Simone’s control for years. He becomes torn between his loyalty to Mama and his new affection for these women, whose adventure turns into a harrowing fight for survival. Ferencik blends the friends’ affections and discords with excitingly described water heroics, and Wini’s protection of Dean brings added heart into these wild woods.
From page 213: I felt a rush of water behind my head. Rachel’s feet frog-kicked as she swam, her shorts and tank top billowing out underwater, black hair waving. She began to surface but fought it. Rolling, bubbles silvering out of her mouth, she struggled to unsnap and free herself from her life vest, which f loated up like an orange balloon. She kicked off into the dark water, and I followed her bright blue water shoes. ◆