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The River

A Novel
Written by: Peter Heller
Narrated by: Mark Deakins
Length: 7 hrs and 18 mins
4 out of 5 stars (15 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"An exhilarating tale delivered with the pace of a thriller." (Kirkus, starred review)

A BookPage 2019 most anticipated book.

A LitHub 2019 most anticipated book.

A national best seller. "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.

©2019 Peter Heller (P)2019 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Urgent, visceral writing - I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. A beautiful, heartrending exploration of male friendship." (Clare Mackintosh, best-selling author of Let Me Lie)

"Using an artist’s eye to describe Jack and Wynn's wilderness world, Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Heller has transformed his own outdoor experiences into a heart-pounding adventure that’s hard to put down." (Library Journal, starred review) 

"Peter Heller has struck gold again with The River … Masterly paced and artfully told, The River is a page-turner that demands the reader slow down… The River thrills as Heller invites his characters to confront their own mortality without losing sight of the deep connections between humans and their environment." (Lauren Bufferd, BookPage, starred review) 

"Heller once again chronicles life-or-death adventure with empathy for the natural world and the characters who people it. He writes most mightily of the boys’ friendship and their beloved, uncompromising wilderness, depicting those layers of life that lie far beyond what is more commonly seen." (Booklist)  

"Two college friends' leisurely river trek becomes an ordeal of fire and human malice.... Heller confidently manages a host of tensions...and his pacing is masterful as well, briskly but calmly capturing the scenery in slower moments, then running full-throttle and shifting to barreling prose when danger is imminent.... Fresh and affecting... An exhilarating tale delivered with the pace of a thriller and the wisdom of a grizzled nature guide." (Kirkus, starred review)  

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

A wasted opportunity

This book is "The Martian" crossed with "Deliverance" written by someone who once went on a camping trip and has never read anything except "Hardy Boys" mysteries. I presume it will therefore be a huge hit but I hated it.

The setting is the "Northern Canadian wilderness" and it read like the author worked from a map but never experienced it himself (I was expecting nature writing evoking a specific place and that is not what I got). The suspense of "will the forest fire burn us up" was somewhat engaging but the suspense of "did this woman get attacked by her husband or by a bear" failed to catch hold: the answer was obvious. The second subplot ("who are these rednecks who are also inexplicably excellent outdoorsmen while at the same time lazy and drunk") failed to take the reader anywhere interesting (and why is no one but Americans canoeing in the Manitoba wilderness?).

The narrator was fine. Some of his pronunciation was distracting to this Canuck canoeist -- for example he said PORT-age rather than port-AGE, but perhaps that is how they say it in America and all of the characters were, after all, American.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Fred J. Kamm
  • Commerce City, CO, United States
  • 2019-03-21

I would have enjoyed this book...

when I was a teenager. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it later, too, when I was raising my young son. But here I am, now an old man...and I can't imagine enjoying this story any more than I did today. I couldn't put down. Actually, I mean I couldn't stop listening to it. Beautifully written and beautifully narrated. I was in the canoe with them. I smelled the smoke. I felt rampage of the rapids. Most of all I felt like part of that thing called "best friendship". Thank you, Peter, for another wonderful story.

18 of 22 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Kristine Ball
  • 2019-04-24

Don’t be fooled by the reviews

This book was the worst audiobook and possibly the worst crime/mystery novel I’ve ever encountered. The author had no sense of plotting or character development, and spent too much time on descriptions of how the boys spent their time gathering blueberries, fishing and camping. The blueberry mentions became a joke as we listened to it in the car, then eventually shut the whole thing off from boredom about an hour from the end. Not recommended.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Sally Wagle
  • 2019-05-04

no northwoods authenticity

I was disappointed with the artificial constructs used to make the story work. There was any over glorification of the 2 MC paddling past. Nothing about their trip had the ring of truthfulness. This is the northwoods but there were never any bugs. It might be worth a sale price but not a credit.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Bigfootwalker1776
  • Fort Worth, TX
  • 2019-03-08

Couldn't put it down

One new twist after another. I was pleasantly surprised at the ending. Not what I expected.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Rick
  • Urcuqui, Ecuador
  • 2019-03-30

Disappointing

Two best friends at college who are expert outdoorsmen set off on a long canoe trip through the Canadian wilderness. The author is clearly an authority on camping, canoeing and fishing in a remote region (or has done his homework), but beyond that, the plot is simply not very interesting. The two main characters, despite a detailed backstory, come off as wooden and two-dimensional. It’s hard to feel much empathy for them. Mark Deakins has perfect diction, but for this book he adds very little emotion or drama.

Perhaps it would be better if compressed into a short story.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Jon Gibbs
  • 2019-04-19

Boring

The story was extremely slow moving, repetitive and dull, I kept listening hoping something other than paddling and fishing would happen.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • TJ
  • NYC
  • 2019-07-21

Not for me. I dislike damsel in distress plots.

I was expecting/hoping for a great wilderness adventure story and for a while I thought this book was delivering.. At first I liked the two main characters who seemed like fantasy men, smart yet brilliant outdoorsmen. At one point, the book describes how one can run 2 hours uphill with a female with cerebral palsy on his back. Yeah right. And thus starts my extreme dislike of the story.

The book fell apart with the introduction of what would be the only female character and whose sole purpose is to be gravely injured and in need to be cared for and rescued by the fantasy men.

The “damsel in distress” genre is my least favorite. At the point where there was a hint of physical attraction of one of them men towards the helpless woman, I was done with the book. And in the end, it had no redeeming qualities for me. I hated the second half of the book. For me a book is an epic fail when all I want is the female character to get her head blown off.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • North Berwick, ME, United States
  • 2019-06-29

Started well...

Started well but became tiresome, boring, and predictable at the end. Feels like he didn’t know how to end this. Jumped the shark.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Rob
  • 2019-03-07

ok

good plot but not as detailed. too simple of an ending. some aggressive twists would have been nice

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-03-27

compelling, well written

Lovely descriptions. Good diction and prose.
Interesting and performed well (though the narrator does occasionally mix up character voices in the beginning).

4 of 6 people found this review helpful