The River by Peter Heller [in Booklist]
“They were best friends at Dartmouth who had decided to take the summer and fall quarters off.” Jack and Wynn are like brothers, “but better, because [they] didn’t have to grow up fighting.” After working as wilderness instructors in the Adirondacks, they embark on a northern Canadian river canoe trip. Adventures they expect – and seek – but they couldn’t possibly be prepared for what lies ahead, both natural and human-made. They can likely avoid or escape fires or falls, but the looming human threat proves unrelenting. The pair’s rescue of a severely injured woman, seemingly brutalized by her own husband, will require supreme sacrifices.
Mark Deakins, who is at least twice the age of his two protagonists, might not seem an obvious casting choice for Heller’s latest, but his maturity imbues his narration with gratifying depth: his experience ensures he maintains deliberate control, affectingly adapting between calm and chaos, pure enjoyment and desperate panic. Amplifying Jack and Wynn’s interactions, Deakins deftly flows from the rhythms of surrounding nature to the unpredictability of (in)human contact.