Likely Stories: The River by Peter Heller

Jun 20, 2019

Another amazing adventure with surprises, treachery, and suspense by Peter Heller


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Peter Heller is a relatively new writer, and The River is his fourth novel.  Of the three I have read, I thoroughly enjoyed the suspense and the thrills.  Peter Heller has an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in poetry and fiction.  He lives in Denver Colorado.

Jack and Wynn are college buddies who decided to take a canoe trip through parts of Canada.  They are skilled at navigating white-water, and they have all the equipment they need.  Early in the trip, they smell smoke, but it does not seem close enough to pose a threat.  They encounter two men who are armed, and the boys warned them of the fire. 

Heller writes, “On the third day after seeing the fire, they were paddling the east shore of a lake called Blueberries.  What it said on the map, and it was an odd name and no way to make it sound right.  Blueberries Lake.  They were paddling close to shore because the wind was up and straight out of the west and rocked them badly.  It was a strange morning: a hard frost early that lingered, and the wind rose up and the black waves piled into them nearly broadside, rank on rank.  The tops of the whitecaps blew into the sides of their faces and the waves lapped over the port gunwale so that they decided to surf into a cobble beach, and they snapped on the spray deck that covered the open canoe.  But there was fog, too.  The wind tore into a dense mist and did not blow it away.  Neither of them had seen anything like it” (7).

The river the boys paddled was nearly devoid of other humans.  After encountering the armed men, they left and shortly after they heard what seemed to be some sort of argument.  “Human voices were the last thing they expected but that’s what it was” (7).

Sometime later, they were looking for a place to set up a camp.  Peter writes, “‘Crap, is that a moose?’ Jack laughed.  ‘Too bad we can’t harness [him] like a reindeer.  Look at him haul the mail.  Must be going four knots.’ // They had decided to camp on the island anyway and had no problem co-existing that night.  The south shore had a cove full of duckweed and they’d walked around quietly and watched him feed.  Just before full dark they’d been sitting at the fire drinking late coffee and Jack whistled soundless and Wynn had turned and they saw the moose standing at the edge of the woods watching, and he seemed forlorn, as if he wanted to join them.  He had clearly never seen a human before” (18).  It seems idyllic, but things are about to happen.

Peter Heller provided a handy map of a number of streams, lakes, and white water.  My only complaint is a rather minor one.  I was confused by the direction the young men took.  As Heller unwinds the tale, I cared less and less which way they were headed.  Every page reveals some important element of the story as the suspense rises.  I read without stopping, because I did not want to miss the smallest detail.

If you have never read Peter Heller, I can assure you that The River--and all of his novels--will want the reader to clamor for more.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!