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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.

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)  

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Average Customer Ratings

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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.

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  • 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.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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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 4 people found this review helpful

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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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • 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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Rob
  • 2019-03-07

ok

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

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Lynn Davis
  • 2019-05-19

BEAUTIFUL STORYTELLING

I am a fan of Peter Heller. I loved Heller's Dog Stars and The Painter, and anticipated that I would also enjoy The River. What I appreciate is Heller's love of nature, the beauty he presents of storms and fires and rushing whitewater rapids. In all his stories. Heller seems to weave us tightly into our wonder (and inherent conflict) with the forces of nature. This book begins as an aspirational best-of-buddies canoe trip and, like a river current, becomes a rush of layered situations with moments, like river eddies, of reflection. I loved this book and highly recommend it to everyone who prepares for and seeks out outdoor adventures. At some point, we all come to the recognition that Life is The River. And we can only do our best to navigate.

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  • Lilly
  • 2019-05-17

Peter Heller Never Disappoints

I fell in love with Peter Heller’s writing when I read ‘The Dog Stars’.

I was encouraged to read ‘The River’ recently. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a native Colorado-an, or the fact that I’m an avid river rafter, but this book was like reading a love letter.

Peter Heller perfectly describes what it’s like to love a river journey. He even better portrays the relationship that exists between river friends. If his power of description isn’t enough for you, he throws in an unexpected tale of terror and of love lost. Can’t recommend ‘The River’ enough!

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  • John Q.
  • 2019-05-13

Worth Six Credits

This is a well written and perfectly narrated novel. As a 62 year old man who has a head and heart full of best memories from adventure trips all over Alaska, Western Canada and the lower 48, I had a combination of laughs, grunts, lip-biteing tension, and finally tears as I listened to the story unfold. I listened without interruptions from start to finish while driving Hwy 31 up to the Michigan border. Once finished, I drove in silence for a couple hours still moved by the story and reminiscing about near-death experiences I have encountered in the wilderness.

The story of the bond between the two young men could very well be true but would also be very rare. One would be rich indeed to have such a strong and good friend. And yet we live in a fallen world and there is no relationship that escapes pain and sometime tragedies.

The story is wholesome and inspiring. It's one of the best I've heard. It's worth your time and investment of emotional energy.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-05-05

Outstanding

Great narration of a gripping story. I highly recommend this book for anybody who likes outdoor adventures.