Winifred Allen needs a vacation.
Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.
What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare; a freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.
With intimately observed characters and visceral prose, The River at Night “will leave you gasping, your heart racing, eyes peering over your shoulder to see what follows from behind” (Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author). This is a dark exploration of creatures—both friend and foe—that you won’t soon forget.
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The River at Night
Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.
A slapping spring wind ushered me through the heavy doors of the YMCA lobby as the minute hand of the yellowing 1950s-era clock over the check-in desk snapped to 7:09. Head down and on task to be in my preferred lane by precisely 7:15, I rushed along the glass corridor next to the pool. The chemical stink leaked from the ancient windows, as did the muffled shrieks of children and the lifeguard’s whistle. I felt cosseted by the shabby walls, by my self-righteous routine, by the fact that I’d ousted myself from my warm bed to face another tedious day head-on. Small victories.
I’d just squeezed myself into my old-lady swimsuit when the phone in my bag began to bleat. I dug it out. The screen pulsed with the image of Pia Zanderlee ski-racing down a double black diamond slope somewhere in Banff.
My choices? Answer it now or play phone tag for another week. Pia was that friend you love with a twinge of resentment. The sparkly one who never has time for you unless it’s on her schedule, but you like her too much to flush her down the friendship toilet.
“Wow, a phone call—from you!” I said as I mercilessly assessed my middle-aged pudge in the greasy mirror. “To what do I owe the honor?”
Of course I knew the reason. Five unanswered texts.
Pia laughed. “Hey, Win, listen. We need to make our reservations. Like, by tomorrow.”
I fished around in my swim bag for my goggles. “Yeah, I haven’t—”
“I get it. Nature’s not your thing, but you’re going to love it once you’re out there. Rachel and Sandra are chomping at the bit to go, but they have to make their travel plans. We all do.”
With a shudder, I recalled my frantic Google search the night before for Winnegosset River Rafting, Maine.
“Just wondering why this place doesn’t have some kind of website. I mean, is it legit?” I asked, my voice coming out all high and tinny. Already I was ashamed of my wussiness. “I’d hate to get all the way up there and find out this is some sort of shady operation—”
I could feel her roll her eyes. “Wini, just because some place or something or someone doesn’t have a website doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” She sounded windblown, breathless. I pictured her power walking through her Cambridge neighborhood, wrist weights flashing neon. “It’s a big old world out there. One of the reasons this place is so awesome is because no one knows about it yet, so it’s not booked solid before the snow’s even melted. That’s why there’s space for the weekend we all want, get it? This year, it’s the world’s best-kept secret—next year, forget it!”
“I don’t know, Pia . . .” I glanced at the time: 7:14.
She laughed, softening to me now. “Look, the guy who runs the white-water tours is a good friend of my dad—he’s my dad’s friend’s son, I mean, so it’s cool.”
“Can’t believe Rachel would want to—”
“Are you crazy? She’s dying to go. And Sandra? Please. She’d get on a plane right now if she could.”
With a wave of affection I pictured my last Skype with Sandra: kids running around screaming in the background, papers to correct stacked next to her. When I brought up the trip, she’d groaned, Hell, yes, I’m game for anything—just get me out of Dodge!
“Wini, listen up: Next year—I promise, we’ll go to a beach somewhere. Cancún, Key West, you choose. Do nothing and just bake.”
“Look, Pia, I’m at the pool and I’m going to lose my lane—”
“Okay. Swim. Then call me.”
I tucked my flyaway dirty-blond bob—the compromise cut for all hopelessly shitty hair—under my bathing cap, then hustled my stuff into a locker and slammed it shut. Do nothing and just bake. Did she really think that was all I was interested in? Who was the one who rented the bike the last time we went to the Cape? Just me, as I recalled, while all of them sat around the rental pouring more and more tequila into the blender each day. And my God—we were all pushing forty—shouldn’t awesome and cool be in the rearview mirror by now?
• • •
I crossed the slimy tiles of the dressing room and pushed open the swinging doors to the pool. The air hit me, muggy and warm, dense with chlorine that barely masked an underwhiff of urine and sweat. Children laughed and punched at the blue water in the shallow end as I padded over to my favorite lane, which was . . . occupied.
It was 7:16 and frog man had beat me to it. Fuck.
For close to a year, this nonagenarian ear, nose, and throat doctor and I had been locked in a mostly silent daily battle over the best lane—far left-hand side, under the skylights—from 7:15 to 8:00 each weekday morning. Usually I was the victor, something about which I’d felt ridiculous glee. We’d only ever exchanged the briefest of greetings; both of us getting to the Y a notch earlier each day. I imagined we both craved this mindless exercise, thoughts freed by the calming boredom of swimming and near weightlessness.
But today I’d lost the battle. I plopped down on a hard plastic seat, pouting inside but feigning serenity as I watched him slap through his slow-motion crawl. He appeared to lose steam near the end of a lap, then climbed the ladder out of the pool as only a ninety-year-old can: with careful deliberation in every step. As I watched the water drip off his flat ass and down his pencil legs, I realized that he was making his way to me, or rather to a stack of towels next to me, and in a few seconds I’d pretty much have to talk to him. He uncorked his goggles with a soft sucking sound. I noticed his eyes seemed a bit wearier than usual, even for a man his age who had just worked his daily laps.
“How are you?” I shifted in my seat, conscious of my bathing cap squeezing my head and distorting my face as I stole the odd glance at the deliciously empty lane.
“I’m well, thank you. Though very sad today.”
I studied him more closely now, caught off guard by his intimate tone. “Why?”
Though his expression was grim, I wasn’t prepared for what he said.
“I just lost my daughter to cancer.”
“I’m sorry,” I choked out. I felt socked in the soft fleshy parts; smacked off the rails of my deeply grooved routine and whipped around to face something I didn’t want to see.
He took a towel and poked at his ears with it. A gold cross hung from a glimmering chain around his thin neck, the skin white and rubbery looking. “It was a long struggle. Part of me is glad it’s over.” He squinted at me as if seeing me for the first time. “She was about your age,” he added, turning to walk away before I could utter a word of comfort. I watched him travel in his flap step the length of the pool to the men’s lockers, his head held down so low I could barely see the top of it.
My hands trembled as I gripped the steel ladder and made my way down into the antiseptic blue. I pushed off. Eyes shut tight and heart pumping, I watched the words She was about your age hover in my brain until the letters dissolved into nothingness. The horror of his offhand observation numbed me as I turned and floated on my back, breathing heavily in the oppressive air. As I slogged joylessly through my laps, I thought of my own father rolling his eyes when I said I was afraid of sleepaway camp, of third grade, of walking on grass barefoot “because of worms.” As cold as he could be to my brother and me, not a thing on earth seemed to frighten him.
I had barely toweled myself off when my phone lit up with a text from Pia. A question mark, that was it. Followed by three more. Methodically I removed my work clothes from my locker, arranging them neatly on the bench behind me. I pulled off my bathing cap, sat down, and picked up the phone.
My thumbs hovered over the keys as I shivered in the overheated locker room. I took a deep breath—shampoo, rubber, mold, a sting of disinfectant—and slowly let it out, a sharp pain lodging in my gut. I couldn’t tell which was worse, the fear of being left behind by my friends as they dashed away on some überbonding, unforgettable adventure, or the inevitable self-loathing if I stayed behind like some gutless wimp—safe, always safe—half-fucking-dead with safety. Why couldn’t I just say yes to a camping trip with three of my best friends? What was I so afraid of?
Pool water dripped from my hair, beading on the phone as I commanded myself to text something.
I watched my fingers as they typed, Okay, I’m in, and pressed send.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The River at Night includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When her best friend, Pia, suggests a girls’ trip to the mountains, Winifred Allen isn’t exactly in the position to say no. After the loss of her beloved brother and her husband’s abandoning her for a younger woman, she desperately needs the vacation—even if it’s a white-water rafting trip through Maine’s desolate Allagash Wilderness. Four women pack up and go on what they know will be a challenging—but also hopefully fun and refreshing—trip, only to find themselves thrust into a scene out of a horror film. A freak accident leaves the group stranded without supplies or any means of contacting the outside world; with no raft to get them downriver, they’re forced to find their way through the woods. But Wini and her friends soon realize that the kindness of strangers cannot always be trusted, and their worst nightmares suddenly become realities.
With twists and turns as unpredictable as the river itself, The River at Night is a breathtaking thriller that forces us to consider how one survives when nothing—and no one—can be trusted.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. “The woods on either side grew dense, impenetrable, alive with their own logic and intelligence” (page 38). Discuss how nature, specifically the woods and the river, act as a character in the novel.
2. The book opens with a quote by Henry David Thoreau. Consider the quote in relation to Simone and Dean, as well as the relationships between Pia, Rachel, Sandra, and Wini. Why do you think the author chose to start the novel with this quote?
3. Concerns about aging and the passing of time come up frequently in The River at Night. Why do you think age becomes a factor in Pia’s encounter with Rory? Why does age matter in terms of Rory’s expertise as a guide? Discuss how age plays a role in the novel and within your own lives.
4. The women use Pia and Rory’s sexual encounter to unearth some frustrations they have with one another. Discuss the strength of their bonds and how a trip like this may have forced them to reconcile previous tensions more than a less stressful vacation would have.
5. Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra have long been friends—but they have strikingly different personalities. Which of the women do you relate to the most? The least? Discuss the reasons as a group.
6. On page 51, the characters learn that the river is largely on public property. Sandra goes so far as to say, “Nobody owns a river, right?” Is there an underlying message about conservation and environmentalism in the novel? Discuss what other ways a river, forest, or public park might be “owned.”
7. Wini, Rachel, Sandra, and Pia have experienced heartache in many different ways. Whose heartache do you relate to the most? The least?
8. In Chapter 7, just before the women truly commence their trip, Wini remembers her last camping experience. Discuss how the loss of her brother affects Wini’s life and how this flashback weaves its way into the rest of the novel.
9. Discuss the two major deaths in this novel. How are they different? What strikes you most about Rory’s passing? About Sandra’s? Do you think that either could have been prevented?
10. As the antagonist of the story, Simone can be seen as ruthless, deadly, and potentially crazy. One could argue, however, that Simone is just another survivor in the novel. Do you think the author means for her to be more than the villain? Why or why not?
11. “This raft—any raft—flips, and when it does, you have to be prepared. You get no warning. You need to always be ready to be upside down and in that water” (page 125). Discuss what it means to be prepared. Which of the women would you trust most to help should you find yourself lost in a similar situation? Which qualities do you believe are most necessary for surviving in the woods?
12. When the trip is over, the women attempt to get back to normalcy. Wini, however, becomes legal guardian over Dean. Does her decision surprise you?
13. Traveling with a group (or a partner) can often strengthen a friendship. Do you think the trip brought these women closer together? Why or why not?
14. Have you ever been in a situation where you say yes to something—even while feeling fearful or deeply distrustful—because you want to be part of a group? What has been the result?
15. The River at Night references loneliness many times, especially in the context of female friendships. Do you feel that the nature of your close friendships has changed over the years? If so, why, and how have you coped with these changes?
16. Fear plays a big role in this book. A natural survival mechanism, fear speeds our reaction times, energizing the muscles for a swifter escape. But what about the role of fear in modern life? Does it ever play a negative role?
17. What is your relationship with nature? Fearful, comfortable, awe-inspired, disgusted, indifferent? Has it changed over the years? If so, in what ways?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Consider reading Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood for your next book group. Discuss the themes of good and evil and surviving the unexpected in both novels. Which book is more believable?
2. The River at Night opens with a quote by Henry David Thoreau. Consider reading poetry by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, or Elizabeth Bishop. Keeping their poems in mind, consider the role New England’s landscape plays in this book.
3. Plan your own girls’ trip to the woods. Find a local hiking trail, white-water rafting course, or campsite. Before you go, discuss each group member’s strengths and how they will be useful throughout the course of the trip.
4. Connect with Erica Ferencik on her website and Twitter.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Half way into this book and holding my breath. I just couldn't wait till the end to post a review.. Hope this book gets the attention it deserves. WILL rate again at conclusion, for now a defininte 4 stars, and I don't give four often.. Hoping to finish at a 5 star rating. READ IT!!!
Just finished one of the best thrillers of the year. Highly recommend to all!!!! However, be prepared to lose sleep, because you will turn the pages long into the night!!
Very good,couldnt put it down
Edge of your seat exciting. Hard to put down.
"The River at Night" was women's fiction in the first half and intense thriller in the second half- an interesting combination! We follow Winifred (Wini) as she embarks on her annual trip with her friends- they've been doing it for years now, and their fearless leader, Pia, seeks out dangerous destinations. Wini needs the trip this year, after her brother's death, her divorce, and the issues at work- however, she is not convinced by the destination Pia chose- white water rafting on a river in the middle of nowhere, Maine. Not one to decline the friends trip, Wini goes along- and the trip becomes even more dangerous than she could have imagined. The first half really builds up the women and gives you insight into how they tick plus their connections to one another. The second half is a harrowing tale of survival after a freak accident. Their lives are forever changed. I actually was really into the first half and loved getting the glimpses into their lives (as told from Wini's point-of-view), and I was not sure why it was classified as a thriller. Then the second half started, got my pulse racing, and refused to let me put it down. The personalities completely shifted in terms of how I saw the characters- for instance, Pia's intensity transforms from annoying/overwhelming into necessary. Also, Rachel, who I liked in the first half, became completely obnoxious. It was interesting how seamlessly everything changed. For people who enjoy both women's fiction and thrillers, this one is sure to be a delicious read! Please note that I received a copy from a goodreads giveaway. All opinions are my own.
Enjoyed immensely and just couldn't put it down. Characters amazing and surroundings came alive.
i got this book just by title. the title seems attractive but not the story upto. characters were handled well. as the story was very deep narrative. it lands you boring. but the book gets it grip when simone and her son enters. the best part is climax which is unpredictable. author had succeded in making her imagination on readers mind. it's good book who wants to get away from boring modern stories, it's suggestable.
3.5 stars Four friends, an annual girls getaway... Pia puts together a water adventure rafting trip down the river in Allagash Wilderness. Wini(fred) isn't that adventurous and although her gut tells her NO, she needs this getaway with her friends. Her brothers death is always in the back of her mind and now her husband has left her. Pia assures Wini, Sandra and Rachel their tour guide is not only sexy but very capable of keeping them safe and getting them safely down the river. Not only is there a tragedy but their raft and supplies goes down the river and they aren't with it. An adventure of surviving but just staying alive challenges the four friends. Is their friendship strong enough to survive or are they stronger than they think they are. Thank you Goodreads, the author and the publisher for the advance copy.
The River at Night was a good read, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping given the hype. Four friends, Pia, Rachel, Sandra, and Winifred, head to the remotest region of Maine for a river rafting trip, their annual girls weekend. The story is narrated by Wini, who’s recently gone through a divorce and is still devastated by the death of her brother. She has reservations about the trip, but Pia, the wild, outgoing one, convinces her everything will be fine. The women are accessing a never before rafted river because their young tour guide’s family owns the land that has the only launching point onto the river. It’s supposed to be the experience of a lifetime, and Pia has organized for them to take the maiden voyage before the tour company becomes so popular that they cannot get a booking. As you may guess, things don’t go quite as planned. The pacing was a little off with this book. There are only 304 pages, but at least half is exposition. All of it told from Wini’s point of view. Perhaps if the perspective had shifted to the other women as well, the beginning wouldn’t have dragged quite as much. Then the second half of the book is fully action-packed, but it just didn’t make up for the slow beginning for me. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-the-river-at-night-by-erica-ferencik/
The cover of this book really grabbed me. When reading the description one thing kept coming to mind.. Deliverance.. Deliverance. I hoped for more than that story rehashed. Additionally it had female stars not male, so there was that twist. Although I enjoyed the book, it wasn't all that for me. I probably would give it 3.5 stars. Did it entertain me? Yes but only up to a certain point. I found myself in the last part of the book trying to do speed reading to just get it over with. I hate not finishing a book especially when I did find some entertainment in it. But the book lost steam after about two-thirds of the book. At this point, I wanted it to end and read the aftermath. Female Deliverance + Normal Female Drama + One Gorgeous Guy + Backwoods Weirdos = The River at Night It isn't a bad book, but it isn't something you will run and tell your friends to read immediately.
Give me four friends with different personalities who have been through the best of times and the worst of times together and plop them into the wilderness of Maine, with no connection to the outside world and you’ve got yourself quite an adventure on your hands. It is their yearly vacation, a time to bond yet only one of them is excited to take this trip. The rest of the women would rather be pampered and be lying on their backs with the sun shining in their eyes instead of fending for themselves and worrying about which wild animals they might encounter and toting their belongings on their backs. It’s a brand new whitewater excursion and they will be the first group to try it out. Rustic, secluded and isolated, this sounded to me like the perfect horror film if there ever could be one. Add in one hot tour guide and bam, I am instantly deciding who would be coming out alive in the end. You never know who or what you might encounter in the wilderness and you can’t always predict how an event will turn out in the end yet their tour guide tried to assure them that he had everything under control. The women came prepared with what they believed to be survival gear and they followed their list which was provided to them but it was the basics. I was looking for some hardcore gear and perhaps that was because I watch too many horror films but where was the worst-case scenario supplies: the knives, the switch blades, the hatchets? Come on girls…get with the times, just because it is not on the list doesn’t mean you can’t bring it. I think I would have been over packed for this excursion, bringing more survival gear than necessary. I was disappointed in Pia, for she was the leader in the group who should have known to pack something; she was their protector, their go-to girl. With some high action moments where they had to think quickly, there were times where I couldn’t put this novel down. Each woman brings with them their own history and it’s like they are gathered around a camp fire, their story emotionally conveyed in pieces throughout the novel. Together, they have also created history. Listening and watching this bond, I see what this bond means to each of these women and how it has shaped them. This whitewater rafting trip becomes quite the adventure both in the water and off in the wilderness. Just a heads up, if your friends invite you to an adventure in the great outdoors, bring something sharp. I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.
Favorite Quotes: I slept caged in a dream of violence with no narrative, like a scrap of old film with only a few frames still visible. She tended to marry well – divorce even better – but never seemed to truly settle into domestic peace. I wondered how the sky could feel so vast at times, so alive with the complex narrative of clouds and sun, moon and stars; at others, so nothing, so commonplace and unremarkable. Was it because of where we were, or because I so seldom looked up? Full on darkness, and all its terrors. I suddenly understood cultures that believed in demons and chimeras, werewolves and gollums. With no walls around us, no light or source of warmth, what besides the monstrous makes sense. Every sound was a beast. My Review: The River At Night was enthralling, smartly written, and hypnotically descriptive. Lushly detailed with words that painted each vivid scene to involve every one of my five senses. I not only experienced a movie reel running in my head – I could hear, feel, taste, and smell each item mentioned. It was magic. Ms. Ferencik is a master wordsmith with an arsenal of beautiful terms and a robust vocabulary that flowed and danced into an intriguing and compelling story. The writing was stellar, witty, deftly crafted, and often poetic, and at other times it crackled and popped with clever ironic observations and insights rife with underlying humor. Written from a first person POV, I either inhabited or was close beside Wini from beginning to end. I was there paddling along in the raft with them and saw the forest through her eyes, felt the coldness leech into her bones, and sensed her fear as well as the sorrows and losses that gripped her heart. I was transported. I just wish I could have been expending the same amount of calories as well.
First of all, I just want to say that these women are totally cray cray. White water rafting with a guide who has only done it five times? Ummm, heck no. The story, absolutely thrilling. I just could not put this book down. It definitely had me mesmerized and my heart beat rising. The things that these four women went through were just hold your breath, keep on reading and see what happens. I mean you lose your guide and your raft halfway through your trip and your lost out in the middle of nowhere. The author does a very good job of putting in the plot twists and really making it seem real. I definitely enjoyed reading this book and was thoroughly entertained and still feel my pulse racing. If your into thrillers, I think you would find this one right up your alley. Huge thanks to Gallery Books for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.