Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The River, by Peter Heller.

           Dartmouth College best friends Jack and Wynn decide to take two semesters off to experience the adventure of a lifetime:  canoeing the Maskwa river in Northern Canada.  They are young Renaissance Men, sharing a love of arts and literature as well as finely developed skills in surviving in the great outdoors, and a great love and respect for the natural world.  This trip will be unforgettable, just for its beauty alone.
            And it is, but for none of the above reasons.
            The first few days after setting out they have seen no-one else apart from plenty of wild-life – but are becoming increasingly concerned by the smell of smoke in air that should be pristine.  When they climb a tree to view the horizon, they are horror-struck to see an enormous wildfire coming their way.  Suddenly the idea of no electronic contact with the outside world doesn’t sound so great after all, and when they finally meet two other canoeists further upriver and warn them of what’s ahead they are disgusted with their couldn’t-care-less attitude, fuelled by fifths of bourbon.  Well, they’ve done the right thing:  what the drunks do about it is their own business.           
            Jack and Wynn press on, determined to try to outrun the fire (oh, for a sat phone to call in a copter!) and reel from the next shock:  through the gathering smoke and mist a couple are having a knock-down-drag-‘em-out fight on a river beach – about what is unclear.  Should they warn them of the danger?  Nah.  Can’t even see them! 
Hours later, yeah.  Conscientious Wynn and Jack paddle back but find  no-one – until the husband finds them, saying he has lost his wife in the mist:  he’s distraught, but Jack feels his story is suspicious.  Nevertheless, he and Wynn decide to mount a search for the lady who, when they eventually find her, is still alive but has injuries consistent with a terrible beating. Attempted murder?  Jack and Wynn are duty-bound to try to save her and themselves, first from the fire, then from her husband who obviously wants her dead.
            Peter Heller has a prodigious talent for transporting his readers right into the thick of things, be it the roiling horror of a vast wildfire and the terrible destruction of everything before it, or the great and awe-inspiring beauty of the wild;  it’s all here in beautiful language for us to marvel or lament over, and proves yet again that greedy and rapacious humans are indeed lower forms of animal life.  SIX STARS.   

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