Erica Ferencik owes Tyler Comrie, the book cover designer of her debut novel, a big thick moose steak lunch.
Last week, while walking out of the library and passing by the new releases, Comrie's cover pulled me in like a rip current. I had to read this book. The cover begs the question: who could survive this raw rush of energy?
The River at Night tears apart any beliefs you might hold dear about human superiority over Mother Nature. Ferencik's Maine wilderness is no place for Candace Bushnell. The novel's setting extends far beyond a few pushy squirrels in Central Park. Titillating her readers with danger from hungry wolves and bears in the shadows, Ferencik explores the relationship dynamics among four women who are on a river rafting trip, led by one self-styled "Mr. Big," all of the action by way of James Dickey's Deliverance.
The story unfolds through the first person viewpoint of Winifred Allen. Win works as a graphic designer for a struggling food magazine in Boston. She seems as resigned to the inevitable pink slip as a trout is to the gnashing teeth of a black bear. She is also divorced and grieving the death of her brother. And then, there's the first-world blight of comfortable women. Win loathes the way she looks in her clothes.
Will Win find the courage to go freelance like real-life graphic designer Tyler Comrie? Fortunately, the story is more intriguing and complicated than a mid-career woman searching for the right job, the right man, the right ordinary life.
"The doors to the wild Self are few but precious," writes Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run with Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Women Archetype. Ferencik sends Win down deep to find those doors through past tragedies, emotional pain and disappointments. The river shows no mercy to the self-created narratives Win has for living small.
There are a few spots early in the novel where you feel the author's scaffolding of the story has been left in place. Perhaps some might say "still water runs deep." Once the action starts, Ferencik's prose shows her wild Self. This novel is a terrific ride.
"We whipsawed around a bend, and everything changed again...A meringue of white water for what seemed like miles. Water quickened, leapt, broke, and foamed again. And always we kept falling, the river dropping out from under us again and again. Blinded by white waves that broke over our heads, we banged down and down, my knees and spine stunned and throbbing with pain."
The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
Through the churning water, the bone-chilling cold, and vicious mosquitos that you'll swear are biting at your neck as you turn each page, there's more to this thriller. I won't spoil what happens next to Win, Pia, Rachel and Sandra because this novel belongs on your summer reader list. A River at Night is one one book that you can judge by its cover.