The River is reminiscent of the Jack London books I read growing up. The author, Peter Heller weaves a spellbinding story of the harshness of nature and of life. Best friends Jack and Wynn set off paddling north towards the Hudson Bay. They face danger from Nature and Man.
Adventure on the River
The plot seems simple enough. Two young men out for adventure. Skipping the first quarter at Dartmouth to paddle north. Dreaming of days spent communing with nature. Fishing to supplement their packed provisions. And gorging off the ripe berries found everywhere along the river bank.
But then nature intervenes in the form of a far off wildfire. Albeit a giant one. So, as they come across two drunk Texans they warn them. Further down river they hear a couple arguing and paddle past. Only to turn back to warn them of the impending fire. No one is around.
Heller brilliantly unravels his characters’ personalities as he spins the prose. Both Jack and Wynn are able-bodied young men. Yet they also are kindred spirits with a shared love of words. Books of all kinds, poetry, and western ballads. However, their life experiences prove the difference.
Wynn sees the good in all. He is optimistic and altruistic. He wants to go back and warn the couple of the approaching fire. Jack is the opposite. He has first-hand knowledge of nature’s cruelty in general and specifically with regards to out of control fires. Furthermore, Jack is resigned to his belief that nature and mankind can be cruel. But Wynn is his best friend and he is persuaded.
Masterful Writing from Peter Heller
The River is classic literature in so many ways. Heller’s writing brings the sights, sounds and smells of the river into the reader’s brain. His foreshadowing keeps the reader on edge worried about the characters. Wondering about the race to safety.
I recommend this novel for high school and above because of the intense drama. Any contemporary literature class would benefit by including The River. Symbolism, foreshadowing and character depth are ripe for discovery. Book clubs will also find the novel excellent material for discussion.