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The River at Night
304 pages; Gallery/Scout Press
Four women have been getting together for a few days every year to cut loose and relieve the pressure of bad jobs, worse marriages, deaths in the family and cancer scares. Winifred, the narrator of Ferencik's heart-pounding debut novel, is skeptical of this year's jaunt, which will take the foursome deep into the Maine woods for some white-water rafting. But Pia, the group's game-for-anything leader, is determined to brave the wild, and their hunky tour guide is confident they can handle whatever the Winnegosset River can throw at them. "Somehow [Pia] sparked all of us to be our least reasonable, our best, most adventurous selves," Winifred thinks early on. This time around, though, that's trouble: The fact that one of the friends is an ER nurse hints that things will go badly, but Ferencik's novel overflows with surprises, from the extreme brutality of the river to the cruelty of some menacing off-the-gridders who cross the path of Winifred and her friends. The best surprise of The River at Night, though, is how it rejects any sweethearted notions of tested sisterhood in favor of a ripsnorting survival tale bolstered by Ferencik's writing, which captures both the beauty and danger of the wild, "where for miles around creatures with eyes built for darkness stared, with paws made for silence crept, smelling us in all our fear and soft humanity."
— Mark Athitakis