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Excerpt from The River by Peter Heller, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The River

by Peter Heller

The River by Peter Heller X
The River by Peter Heller
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2020, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Adrienne Pisch
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Print Excerpt


"How've you been making the portages?" Jack said. He meant the carries between the lakes. There were five lakes, string­ing south to north. Some of the lakes were linked by chan­nels of navigable river, others by muddy trails that necessitated unloading everything and carrying. The last lake flowed into the river. It was a big river that meandered generally north a hundred and fifty miles to the Cree village and the bay. Jack was not impressed with the men's fitness level.

"We got the wheely thing," the skinny man said. He made a sweeping gesture at the camp.

"We got just about everything," the fat man said.

"Except pussy." The two let out another gust of laughter.

Jack said, "The fire's upwind. There. We figure maybe thirty miles off. It's a killer."

The fat man brought them into focus. His face turned serious. "We got it covered," he said. "Do you? It's all copacetic here. Whyn't you have a drink?" He gestured at Wynn. "You, the big one—what's your name?"

"Wynn."

"He's the mean one, huh?" The fat man cocked his head at Jack. "What's his name? Go Home? Win or Go Home. Ha!"

Wynn didn't know what to say. Jack looked at them. He said, "Well, you might get to high ground and take a look thataway one evening." He pointed across the lake. He didn't think either of them would climb a hill or a tree. He waved, wished them luck without conviction, and he and Wynn got in their canoe and left.

* * *

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 rocking them badly. It was a strange morning: a hard frost early that lingered and then 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 ever seen anything like it.

They were paddling close to shore and they heard shouting. At first they thought it was birds or wolves. They didn't know what. As with the fire, they could not at first countenance the cause. Human voices were the last thing they expected but that's what it was. A man shouting and a woman's remonstra­tion, high and angry. The cries shredded in the wind. Wynn half turned in the bow and pointed with his paddle, but only for a second as they needed speed for headway or they would capsize. His gesture was a question: Should we stop?

An hour before, when they had beached to put on the spray skirt, they had landed hard. Wynn was heavier and having his weight in front had helped in the wind, but then they had surfed a wave into shore and thwomped onto the rocks, which thankfully were smooth; if the beach had been limestone shale they would have broken the boat. It was a dangerous maneuver.

They could not make out the words, but the woman sounded furious and the man did not sound menacing, just outraged. Jack shook his head. A couple might expect privacy in their home, why shouldn't they be granted the same in the mid­dle of nowhere? They could not see the figures or even the shore, but now and then there was an intimation of trees, just a shadow in the tearing fog, a dark wall which they knew was the edge of the forest, and they paddled on.

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Excerpted from The River by Peter Heller. Copyright © 2019 by Peter Heller. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Beyond the Book:
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