As a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, I devoured “The Dog Stars” and then started gifting copies to my reader friends. When he published “The Painter,” I read it immediately and it didn’t disappoint.
I’m a guy. I like guy stuff. Heller writes about guys doing stuff—surviving after a worldwide calamity; communing with nature and killing a bad guy (unintentionally; he had it coming!); navigating a dangerous river and saving a woman in distress—so I’m in.
“The River” is streamlined, coming in at around 250 pages. I read it in a couple of sessions, squeezing it into my schedule as often as possible. There’s no discernable fluff. It feels intimate and reminded me of Tim O’Brien’s work in its limited scope. The way Heller tells the story—it’s not a straightforward A to B journey; there are turns and backtracking and changes of pace—reflects the river itself. It starts at a meandering pace and quickly picks up speed.
Heller writes with an authority born of experience. Everything feels completely authentic. So much texture. I think I said much the same in my review for “The Painter,” but his writing and his eye for detail really remind me of James Dickey’s “Deliverance.” Dickey was a poet who brought his keen eye for nature to novel writing and created a fictional touchstone that most stories of canoeing down a river will naturally be compared to, which is why I was surprised and pleased that Heller mentions “Deliverance” and name-checks Dickey.
(Skip this if you're concerned about possible spoilers. Something occurred to me a few days after I finished the book and had some time to digest it. I was ultimately satisfied with the book's resolution, but I think it might have been more interesting for the "less manly" character to have had to step up to resolve the central conflict. As-is, it's fairly straightforward and unsurprising, and not much of an arc. There's circularity and *some* closure for the protagonist in terms of what's haunting him, but the resolution of the conflict doesn't specifically "kill his ghost." C'est la vie.)
"The River" is another winner from Heller. He is an amazingly talented writer and I would be pleased to read anything he put out.
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: KNOPF US (5 March 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0525521879
- ISBN-13: 978-0525521877
- Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.4 x 21.6 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 195,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)