Classic Catalog

The River

by Peter Heller

About the Book

The River unspools like a gripping tale told around a campfire at night. Heller’s lyrical prose illuminates a modern buddy- adventure that is a physical as well as moral journey. It’s late August, and Jack and Wynn are beginning a wilderness canoe trip into the Canadian wilderness. The two young men, from different backgrounds, bonded while away at college through their mutual love of the outdoors and literature. 

Jack and Wynn are compelling characters whose skills and friendship will be tested as they are pitted against a beautiful and powerful natural world — and also its most dangerous predator. 

Trying to evade a distant but growing forest fire, the pair turn back to try to warn two sets of people they had spotted along the river. The drunk duo don’t listen, and they lose track of the arguing couple along the river after they disappear in the sudden dense fog.  

The next day they meet a hysterical man who says he has lost his wife. But has he?  

Heller writes a tight novel that successfully combines nature/adventure/thriller writing in a way that puts you right in the canoe with Jack and Wynn.

About the Author

Peter Heller is the national bestselling author of CelineThe Painter, and The Dog StarsThe Painter was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the prestigious Reading the West Book Award, shared in the past by Western writers such as Cormac McCarthy and Terry Tempest Williams, and The Dog Stars, which was published to critical acclaim and lauded as a breakout bestseller, has been published in twenty-two languages to date.

Heller is also the author of four nonfiction books, including Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, which was awarded the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in poetry and fiction and lives in Denver, Colorado.

Related Events

Film Club: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Thursday, July 30, 2020, 7:00 pm
Virtual Event | Wealthy Theatre’s Facebook Page

Do you ever wish you could escape to the great outdoors? Use the library’s streaming service Kanopy to watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople and then join our panel of experts as they discuss their favorite parts of the film.

Tune in here for a pre-recorded conversation and join a live discussion through Facebook at the Wealthy Theatre page.

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Q&A with Peter Heller

What are books or resources that were helpful for you in writing your books?

When I sit down to write a novel, I usually have no idea what it will be about. I love to begin with a first line and follow it into the next, and the next. I’ll just begin with a line whose sound I like, and the cadence of the language leads me into the story. So I am always surprised, as surprised as the reader, and that makes the process of writing so fun.

What happens then, is that all the places I have been, and the people I’ve met along the way, and all the books I’ve read, become the resource, and parts of them kind of drift down out of the dark and land on the page. Memories, scenes, bits of conversations and poems. I was a journalist and adventure writer before I began writing fiction, so I was very lucky to have traveled the world and seen a lot of wild country and met some amazing characters and many different kinds of people. Also, I read a lot of poetry growing up, from classics like Eliot and Dickinson and Yeats, to Neruda and Li Po, to Merwin and Berryman and CD Wright. All of them have shown up in my work.

Do you have any habits or creativity hacks that help you deal with writers' block?

Well, I don’t believe in writers’ block! And if I don’t believe in it, it can’t exist, for me. That’s one strategy. I think the block is a kind of perfectionism, a freezing in fear that the writing won’t be perfect.

Here’s what I do: I treat writing like a craft, which it is. I go into my wood shop and put on my smock and sharpen the chisels and cut wood and work on the joints. A day’s work. I write a thousand words a day, never less, and I go just past that until I am in the middle of something exciting. And I stop. Then I can’t wait to jump out of bed and continue the next morning. I, and most of my author friends, used to just write through a big scene when we got excited, but then you end at a transition, a double return, white space, and you come back to white space every morning and you have to get the book going all over again. With the stop-in-the-middle method you can generate a lot of momentum.

What’s the best book you’ve read during 2020?

I reread Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. Gives me goosebumps, still.

Do you have any readgrets (definition as a noun-that empty feeling you get when you read a book way too fast and wish you would have read it much slower; as a verb-to feel sad or sorry it took you so long to read a book you should have read a long time ago)?

Readgrets. I don’t hesitate to answer the question. It’s The Bible. I’ve read from it many times, but never, I am ashamed to say, read the Old and New Testaments all the way through. I like to read much of Genesis, and the Psalms, and Lamentations. And and and. A good thing to do this winter.

What changes do you think will stick around after the pandemic? ie, no more shaking hands, more people working from home, no more birthday candles, etc.

Hand shaking seems like it will become an artifact. I think a lot more people will work from home, and be more productive. But mostly, what I’m seeing in the midst of all the fear, is a lot of people becoming more aware of, and grateful for, the little things. The small joys. The hummingbirds visiting the garden, an evening walk, a good talk with a friend, the value of family. Once one learns to appreciate the smaller gifts that rain on us every day, there is no going back.

Have you ever traveled to Michigan and visited any of our parks?

I love coming to Michigan. I’ve been half a dozen times on book tours and book festivals. My very favorite venue to read—read from a novel to a crowd—is the opera house in Traverse City. I’ve had great times in Grand Rapids and Petoskey. The book that made me want to become a fiction writer when I was eleven was In Our Timeby Hemingway; most of the stories take place in Upper Michigan and, growing up, I always wanted to go there.

You seem very familiar with canoeing and the terminology. Do you canoe often? Is it a favorite hobby of yours?

I love to paddle rivers. I grew up Canoeing in the Adirondacks, which has some very wild country. In college I began to do longer expeditions in Alaska and Canada. Then I learned to kayak whitewater and traveled the world as an expedition kayaker, writing stories about those trips for magazines. We ran rivers in Siberia and the Himalayas, in Peru and Tajikistan. I loved being on rivers and still do. In many ways, writing a novel–just starting with a first line and nosing into the story–is like getting on a river I’ve never run. The narrative current takes me into new country, wild territory, and I’ll come around a tight corner and be surprised and awed.

What waters are your favorite; white water, easy- going socializing or meditative solitude?

I love all kinds of water. Paddling swift smooth water, heavy rapids in a kayak, fishing from a canoe out on a remote lake, paddling a surfboard out into the waves just as the sun is rising. I can relate to otters.

What is your writing routine? Is there anything that helps you find your flow when writing?

So I get up in the morning and drink two large cups of strong coffee. Strong enough to float a horseshoe. I used to then go to a coffee shop, and get a two shot latte, but now I get it from a drive-through window and take it home and climb the stairs to an office room. Then I write the thousand words every day and stop in the middle of a scene. When I’m in a novel, I work seven days a week. I don’t edit as I go, and I don’t worry if it’s any good. I really believe in momentum and trusting the process. Later, there will be revision, and if I need to I can toss out all sorts of stuff, and tighten it up, and move things around. I don’t outline. Mostly, as I write I follow the energy—where the language and the story feel most alive.