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The River
Cover of The River
The River
A novel
A Nominee for the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe Awards

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"A fiery tour de force… I could not put this book down. It truly was terrifying and unutterably beautiful." –Alison Borden, The Denver Post

From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars, the story of two college students on a wilderness canoe trip—a gripping tale of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence

Wynn and Jack have been best friends since freshman orientation, bonded by their shared love of mountains, books, and fishing. Wynn is a gentle giant, a Vermont kid never happier than when his feet are in the water. Jack is more rugged, raised on a ranch in Colorado where sleeping under the stars and cooking on a fire came as naturally to him as breathing. When they decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada, they anticipate long days of leisurely paddling and picking blueberries, and nights of stargazing and reading paperback Westerns. But a wildfire making its way across the forest adds unexpected urgency to the journey. When they hear a man and woman arguing on the fog-shrouded riverbank and decide to warn them about the fire, their search for the pair turns up nothing and no one. But: The next day a man appears on the river, paddling alone. Is this the man they heard? And, if he is, where is the woman? From this charged beginning, master storyteller Peter Heller unspools a headlong, heart-pounding story of desperate wilderness survival.
A Nominee for the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe Awards

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"A fiery tour de force… I could not put this book down. It truly was terrifying and unutterably beautiful." –Alison Borden, The Denver Post

From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars, the story of two college students on a wilderness canoe trip—a gripping tale of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence

Wynn and Jack have been best friends since freshman orientation, bonded by their shared love of mountains, books, and fishing. Wynn is a gentle giant, a Vermont kid never happier than when his feet are in the water. Jack is more rugged, raised on a ranch in Colorado where sleeping under the stars and cooking on a fire came as naturally to him as breathing. When they decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada, they anticipate long days of leisurely paddling and picking blueberries, and nights of stargazing and reading paperback Westerns. But a wildfire making its way across the forest adds unexpected urgency to the journey. When they hear a man and woman arguing on the fog-shrouded riverbank and decide to warn them about the fire, their search for the pair turns up nothing and no one. But: The next day a man appears on the river, paddling alone. Is this the man they heard? And, if he is, where is the woman? From this charged beginning, master storyteller Peter Heller unspools a headlong, heart-pounding story of desperate wilderness survival.
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  • From the cover Prologue
     

    They had been smelling smoke for two days.

    At first they thought it was another campfire and that sur­prised them because they had not heard the engine of a plane and they had been traveling the string of long lakes for days and had not seen sign of another person or even the distant movement of another canoe. The only tracks in the mud of the portages were wolf and moose, otter, bear.

    The winds were west and north and they were moving north so if it was another party they were ahead of them. It per­plexed them because they were smelling smoke not only in early morning and at night, but would catch themselves at odd hours lifting their noses like coyotes, nostrils flaring.

    And then one evening they pulled up on a wooded island and they made camp and fried a meal of lake trout on a driftwood fire and watched the sun sink into the spruce on the far shore. Late August, a clear night becoming cold. There was no aurora borealis, just the dense sparks of the stars blown from their own ancient fire. They climbed the hill. They did not need a headlamp as they were used to moving in the dark. Sometimes if they were feeling strong they paddled half the night. They loved how the darkness amplified the sounds—the gulp of the dipping paddles, the knock of the wood shaft against the gunwale. The long desolate cry of a loon. The loons especially. How they hollowed out the night with longing.

    Tonight there was no loon and almost no wind and they went up through tamarack and hemlock and a few large birch trees whose pale bark fluoresced. At the top of the knoll they fol­lowed a game trail to a ledge of broken rock as if they weren’t the first who had sought the view. And they saw it. They looked northwest. At first they thought it was the sun, but it was far too late for any lingering sunset and there were no cities in that direction for a thousand miles. In the farthest distance, over the trees, was an orange glow. It lay on the horizon like the light from banked embers and it fluttered barely so they wondered if it was their eyes and they knew it was a fire.

    A forest fire, who knew how far off or how big, but bigger than any they could imagine. It seemed to spread over two quad­rants and they didn’t say a word but the silence of it and the way it seemed to breathe scared them to the bone. The prevail­ing wind would push the blaze right to them. At the pace they were going they were at least two weeks from the Cree village of Wapahk and Hudson Bay. When the most northerly lake spilled into the river they would pick up speed but there was no way to shorten the miles.

    ***
     
    On the morning after seeing the fire they did spot another camp. It was on the northeastern verge of a wooded island and they swung out to it and were surprised that no one was break­ing down the large wall tent. No one was going anywhere. There was an old white-painted square-stern woodstrip canoe on the gravel with a trolling motor clamped to the transom and two men in folding lawn chairs, legs sprawled straight. Jack and Wynn beached and hailed them and the men lifted their arms. They had a plastic fifth of Ancient Age bourbon on the stones between the chairs. The heavier one wore a flannel shirt and square steel-rimmed tinted glasses, the skinny one a Texans cap. Two spinning rods and a Winchester Model 70 bolt-action rifle leaned against a pine.

    Jack said, “You-all see the fire?”

    The skinny one said, “You-all see any pussy?” The men burst out laughing. They were drunk. Jack felt disgust, but being drunk on a summer morning didn’t deserve a...
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Narrator Mark Deakins and author Peter Heller are an audiobook lover's dream team. In this suspenseful novel, a late-summer canoe trip in Canada goes horribly wrong for two college friends despite their being well prepared and lifelong outdoorsmen. Early in the audiobook, Deakins sets a light tone and an easy pace, matching Wynn and Jack's comfortable friendship and their obvious passion for nature, camping, and fly-fishing. Later, as a forest fire grows closer and other canoe groups display puzzling behavior, Deakins builds a foreboding atmosphere, adding tension, uncertainty, and fear to the men's voices and thoughts. Throughout, he enhances the narrative with an underlayer of subtle drama. Like making the perfect cast to a rising trout, Deakins's performance entices listeners, and they can't resist the bait. C.B.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine
Title Information+
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    Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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The River
The River
A novel
Peter Heller
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