The River: A novel (Hardcover)

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March 2019 Indie Next List

“Peter Heller can take you on a journey through nature like no other writer. The River is the story of two close friends wanting nothing more than to enjoy their time together on a trip through the Canadian wilderness, and fly fishing has never been so beautifully portrayed nor has the serenity of water and nature. But the peacefulness slowly wanes and the tension begins to build as the trip becomes a race against encroaching forest fires and an attempt to save the life of the mysterious woman they have picked up along the way. Heller has created a story of friendship and survival that should not be missed.”
— Mary McBride, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, KS


"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.

About the Author

PETER HELLER is the national best-selling author of Celine, The Painter, and The Dog Stars. The Painter was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the prestigious Reading the West Book Award, shared in the past by Western writers such as Cormac McCarthy and Terry Tempest Williams, and The Dog Stars, which was published to critical acclaim and lauded as a breakout bestseller, has been published in twenty-two languages to date. Heller is also the author of four nonfiction books, including Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, which was awarded the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature.

He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in poetry and fiction and lives in Denver, Colorado.

Praise For…

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

"A fiery tour de force… [The River] recalls his debut, The Dog Stars, with its poetic, staccato sentences and masterfully crafted prose… The story itself resembles a trip down a river—some parts are peaceful and allow for quiet introspection and big, deep breaths. But then you hit the rapids and the danger and risk jump off the page, forcing a sense of urgency. In those thrilling parts, reading required self-discipline. I wanted to know what happened so badly that I’d read too fast and had to retrace my steps to savor Heller’s storytelling. And what a story he tells… I could not put this book down. It truly was terrifying and unutterably beautiful."
–Alison Borden, The Denver Post

"[A] poetic and unnerving wilderness thriller… Full of rushing life and profound consequences. Every move Jack and Wynn make along the river has the chance to kill them or those they’re trying to save, and the result is a novel that sweeps you away, each page filled with wonder and awe for a natural world we can quantify with science but can rarely predict with emotion."
–Tod Goldberg, USA Today

"As much an allegory about man’s impact on the Earth as it is an adventure story… Heller’s prose is at its best when he’s describing the natural world. His sometimes short, clipped sentences unfurl into long, lyrical lines, each syllable stretching toward near-poetry as he describes the landscapes. Heller’s melodious renderings are drawn from a lifetime of not just witnessing nature, but of actively paying attention to how it is woven together."
–Kasey Cordell, 5280 Magazine
"The River is a beauty-of-nature/cruelty-of-humanity hybrid, but this time he leans into the thriller aspect of the tale, with gripping results… Former Outside magazine editor Heller puts his knowledge of canoeing and currents to fascinating use. He has created indelible characters in Wynn and Jack, pals who are almost exact opposites: the former a bearish galoot who’s convinced that people are basically good, and the latter a pessimist who’s convinced that their only hope for salvation is to paddle as fast as they can."
–Ross Gray, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Heller writes with deep respect and empathy for not only nature and its inhabitants but also of human frailty, friendship, loyalty, and love. This exquisite book made me feel so many things—terror, sorrow, excitement—and isn’t that what it’s all about? Heller packs a ton of adventure and emotion in this short novel, and I dare you to put it down once you’ve picked it up. Stunning, beautiful, life-affirming, and heartbreaking. What else can I say?"
–Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element 

"Another superbly crafted adventure-action-mystery story. What begins as a late summer lark—a canoe trip through northern Canada ending at the Hudson Bay—is transformed brilliantly into a harrowing adventure for two college students… Reminiscent of James Dickey’s classic Deliverance… The beat of Heller’s novel builds to a furious pace."
John Newlin, New York Journal of Books

"Engaging...satisfying... [The River] gets into the tricky balance of safety and risk in the backcountry, especially with a partner and particularly when things take a turn for the worst... Heller is good at tension, and his writing is terse and tight. Short, lyrical paragraphs are packed with action and keep the story moving along... Like a lot of backcountry missions, the most compelling parts of the story aren’t necessarily the rapids or the high-risk moves. Instead they’re the quiet moments where Wynn and Jack are coupling their rods together and wading slowly through vivid, tannic streams."
Heather Hansman, Outside Magazine

"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)

"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)

"Suspenseful… With its evocative descriptions of nature's splendor and brutality, Heller's novel beautifully depicts the powers that can drive humans apart—and those that compel them to return repeatedly to one another."
Publishers Weekly

"Heller once again chroniclesmi 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."
"In this modern-day survival tale, a canoe trip in northern Canada turns grim for two college friends after a wildfire breaks out near their route. Things become even more dire when the friends wade into a domestic dispute between a man and woman they encounter on the trip, and the novel takes on the urgency of a thriller."
–The New York Times, "12 New Books to Watch for in March"

"Two college friends set off on a wilderness canoe ride. An impending wildfire and other forces of nature aren't the only pressing elements—the two find themselves mired in a violent drama of a travelling husband and wife."
Sarah Day Owen, USA Today’s "5 Books Not to Miss"

Product Details
ISBN: 9780525521877
ISBN-10: 0525521879
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Pages: 272
Language: English