Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The River” as Want to Read:
The River
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The River

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  23,016 ratings  ·  3,676 reviews
The story of two college friends on a wilderness canoe trip—of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence

Wynn and Jack have been best friends since freshman orientation, bonded by their shared love of mountains, books, and fishing. Wynn is a gentle giant, a Vermont kid never happier than when his feet are in the water. Jack is more rugged, raised on a ranch in
Hardcover, 253 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The River, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Della Huff I thought of the movie "The River Wild" while I was reading this, which was one of my favorite movies in the 90s. I haven't seen it in years but I bet…moreI thought of the movie "The River Wild" while I was reading this, which was one of my favorite movies in the 90s. I haven't seen it in years but I bet it would hold up despite it being 25 years old. Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon and Joseph Mazzello all had great performances.(less)
Larry Fontenot The last action chronologically in the book is his visit to Wynn's mother and sister (Wynn's father is on a trip). He recounts what happened, then ask…moreThe last action chronologically in the book is his visit to Wynn's mother and sister (Wynn's father is on a trip). He recounts what happened, then asks for a moment. He steps outside on their deck and revisits (good word, Janet, that's exactly what he is doing in his mind) the things that happened when he finally reached safety, one thing being his trip to Churchill after the initial discussion with law enforcement. It was in Churchill that he walked down to the river and tried to release Wynn's carved canoe into the river. The river turns it back to Jack and Jack puts it in his hands and walks back into town. I suspect that he will keep this to himself until at some point I would hope he would give this carved object to Wynn's sister Jess. I also took this attempt to release the carved canoe as a metaphysical attempt to release Jack from his sense of guilt. But that's just me!(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  23,016 ratings  ·  3,676 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The River
David Putnam
Mar 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book. This one is going into the top five for the year. Absolutely beautiful writing craft. Evocative. Vivid. But most of all emotional. The author makes good use of the first sixty pages developing the two main characters Wynn and Jack who are friends on canoeing trip. This is a man vs man and man vs nature odyssey story. The conflict is foreshadowed and starts in earnest after page sixty. Nature and setting carry an equal weight as a main character and is wonderfully depicted. The b ...more
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Holy F***ity *f*ck. 2 days and I couldn’t put this one down.

This story moves as fast as the white water rapids these 2 pals are portaging through. Intense.
Jack and Wynn are trekking through the Maskwa river in Northern Canada an enjoyable journey that turns into one of survival. They encounter a forest fire, in which they are pacing themselves to the village they need to get to, Which is a 10 day trek at best and the flames are only 20 miles away. Then they encounter a man who claims his wife ha
Holly  B (semi-hiatus until Nov)
A little too slow-building and descriptive for me. There is some intense, suspenseful moments, but the detailed and somewhat repetitiveness stalled the flow of the story. He even describes how fast they paddled the canoe (3mph) , the various species of birds singing and the brand of sleeping bag they slept in. I know this would be a plus for many, but I was ready for something to happen.

This one was a favorite of many of my GR friends. I like to try new to me authors and I have been hearing grea
Diane S ☔
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wynn and Jack meet at orientation, both sharing a love of literature, they become fast friends. Wynn comes from Vermont, loves the water, Jack, raised on a ranch in Colorado. Both boys have a keen sense of adventure and in the summer they decide to take a leisurely canoe trip down the Maskwa River in Canada. They are more than well provisioned, and the first part of their trip goes smoothly indeed.

In this first part of the book the reader is treated to superb descriptions of scenery. The descrip
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The River by Peter Heller is a 2019 Knopf Publishing Group publication.

An intense adventure between man and nature amidst a battle between good and evil…

Two close friends, Wynn and Jack, one from Vermont and the other from Colorado, each with different temperaments, decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada. They have dreams of taking it slow and easy, kicking back and enjoying nature at its finest.

However, a wildfire changes the tone of their trip, adding a sense of unease that int
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a gripping, intense story!
Wynn and Jack are best friends, they met freshman year of college and bonded over their love of the outdoors and books.
They are on a wilderness canoe trip in Canada anticipating a grand time of fishing, paddling, stargazing, reading.... but things go awry when they become aware of a wildfire making its way across the forest.
This wildfire is just the start of occurrences that add an urgency to this heart-pounding tale.
Loved it!!
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The turning of a card that sent a life in one direction or another. The slip of a single hoof on stone, the sound of two voices in the midst. He believed in it as much as he believed in any other thing, like loyalty or hard work. And sometimes the places that happenstance sent you weren't as vague as a direction, sometimes they were as steel-cast and unforgiving as a set of rails."

Life is like that. It nudges you down unexpected corridors and sets your feet upon the rocky surfaces of shifting c
j e w e l s
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio

The River is for you, IF:

You are the outdoorsy/backpacking/hiking type. Or live vicariously through books!
You love a modern adventure story with an old-timey feel.
You adore descriptions of nature.
You go gaga over detailed lists of camping supplies😂NOT kidding!
You love a very literary writing style in above mentioned subjects!

So, I kinda meet the above requirements (hello🙏I live in Oregon by choice!!). I plunged into this lovely, little, short book and was pleasantly hooked right
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2019
“The River” is a very engrossing and beautifully written outdoor adventure/friendship tale that knocked my socks off. Heller is an absolute master at capturing the fierce beauty and terrible majesty of the natural world. His powerful descriptions of nature often took my breath away. Here’s a passage where he brings a monstrous beast of a forest fire to life:

”Over the trees – they could still see the wall of trees through smoke like fog – the glow was a fierce and general radiance that pulsed wit
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Peter Heller fans
I saw this audiobook on the shelf of my local library and decided to pick it up knowing that many GR friends had recently rated The River very highly.

Adventure and survival stories are always of interest to me. Unfortunately, The River did not live up to the others I have read. The book is not intense or a thriller, but a slow burn. It is more of a character study of the 2 young men that are taking a journey down a river in northern Canada. The book describes well the challenges they face and th
The Hook Most readers have a list of favorite authors. Peter Heller is one of mine. I've heard him speak a few times, the man and the writer a clash of thought for me. I don't quite know how to explain this but if I had only met the man, I'm not certain I would have read his books. He down plays his core, a man who can cite poetry, appreciate fine art and describe nature with the best, often relying on humor rather than the revealing the attributes I mention. In this recent
BookPage Interview by
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

To say I was not the correct audience for this book is a serious understatement. Don’t even call me a wrongreader either because the blurb was responsible for making me think it was going to go all . . . .

With a story about a dude who maybe killed his wife on the river and the two young fellas who happen to stumble upon him both with and without his better half accounted for that also included a side dish of . . . . .

To amp u
”They loved how the darkness amplified the sounds – the gulp of the dipping paddles, the knock of the wood shaft against the gunwale. The long desolate cry of a loon. The loons especially. How they hollowed out the night with longing.”

These two young men who meet during the first days of college on the Dartmouth campus, Jack and Wynn, share a love of nature, fishing, water and the outdoors, camping as well as a shared love of poetry, and books. A bond has been formed through these shared lov
Cathrine ☯️
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of nature and adventure
Recommended to Cathrine ☯️ by: Diane S ☔
5 ⚠️ ⚠️ ⚠️ ⚠️ ⚠️
If you go out in the woods today,
You'd better not go alone.
It's lovely out in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home. . .

But it’s not a picnic you should worry about.

Best friends Wynn and Jack are on a Canadian canoeing adventure minimalist style, no phone because “What would be the point? They didn’t have much first aid. They traveled light in that regard—they were boys” — Oh the confidence of youth. They do have bear spray but bears are not their biggest problem.

At 250 page
Elyse  Walters
I couldn’t stay interested ...
tossing in the towel.

All my friends loved it -
Read other reviews
Joe Valdez
Here's how I'd describe my symptoms to the librarian after reading The River, Peter Heller's man vs. nature/ man vs. man follow-up to The Dog Stars published in 2019: I compulsively finished the novel to the end. I also skipped over 15-20% of it. I appreciated its eerie splendor and moral conflicts. I tired of reading about the canoe trip and its minutiae. I found the two main characters well drawn. I recognized the skill with which Heller introduced backstory into the piece. Heller is a fantast ...more
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: action-adventure
Action, adventure, and a gorgeous setting, The River was hard for me to put down. Jack and Wynn are best friends on a college break making a canoeing trip. They are also something that is very unusual and little described in literature, decent, kind and smart. Their love of books is what brought them together; they are voracious readers. They also love nature and all its beauties as well. Both boys are good to their families and love them and both feel like they should take care of others that t ...more
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-fiction
It had me at hello and didn't let go.
Literary perfection.
A beautiful tribute to nature.
The ultimate buddy read.

I will read more Peter Heller.
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, 2019-reads
Wynn and Jack couldn’t be more different but because of their shared love of the outdoors and reading they become fast friends as freshmen in college. They decide to take a relaxing leisurely canoe trip down a river in Canada.

The first part of this slim book meanders along at a leisurely pace. The author is a travel and adventure writer and it shows. Normally I’ll put down a book with descriptive writing, but in this book it works. As with the other two books I’ve read by this author the audio
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Liz by: Carolyn
Shelves: library
Two college friends take a canoe trip through the Canadian wilderness. It’s a trip they’ve been looking forward to, but it quickly goes wrong. First, there’s a wildfire coming toward them. Then, they hear a couple fighting along the shore. Later that day, the man is seen, alone. He claims his wife has gone missing and the boys return to look for her.
What starts off slowly quickly picks up speed. Jack and Wynn may be best friends, but they definitely have different personalities and react differ
4.5 stars rounded up. Peter Heller’s elegant prose enthralled me, along with a couple of engaging characters in an intense backcountry adventure. Wynn, a big athletic guy from Vermont, who loves poetry and making impromptu sculptures from natural objects identifies with the ephemeral beauty he sees around him. Jack is a rough and tumble cowboy from Colorado who is still struggling with his mother’s tragic death when Jack was only eleven. They’re both nice guys; capable college buddies from Dartm ...more
A novel that started off well, and then the writing became progressively lazier. If you want to read a book chock-full of camping and fishing minutiae, this might be for you. Style-wise, about 90% of it reads something like this:

They got up. They were cold. They made a fire. They took the pot to the river and filled it with water. They boiled the water. They added sugar. They drank it. They decided to do some fishing [insert page after page after page of description of fishing techniques]

At so
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Ugh! Here is another book that everyone loves...seriously, everyone, but, I even have to say it?! Ugh! I would rather not. This just wasn’t the book for me. If I hadn’t skimmed parts of it, I’m not sure I would’ve finished it and I really don’t know why. I was bored. Forgive me, friends and fans.
2.5 stars
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-favorites
The River is an exquisite adventure. Here is my reading experience: I am hurtling down a river, filled with adrenaline, desperate to flip the page when I am stopped in my tracks by a sentence, describing perfectly the sky or forest or the feelings of Wynn or Jack. I have to read it twice. Slowly. My pulse is racing, I charge forward and AGAIN am stopped by Heller's language. Meanwhile, I am becoming seriously attached to Wynn and Jack so every action they take is weighted. I am devouring and sav ...more
J.K. Grice
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"There's always relief in committing to a decision, even when there's no choice."

Peter Heller's latest novel is just one helluva ride, not to mention outdoor adventure literature at its finest. You can place THE RIVER right up there beside Elwood Reid's Midnight Sun and James Dickey's American classic, Deliverance.

Jack and Wynn are two college boys taking the fall off from their studies at Dartmouth. It's August in Canada, and they are on a canoe trip on the Maskwa River, south
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thought the writing in this book was beautiful. I was hooked from the first chapter. It's like nothing really seemed to be happening yet but the way that the author wrote it just feels so ominous, dark, silent and creepy. You can just feel like something bad was going to happen. I was instantly on edge. The writing style was very descriptive but in many short sentences; it seemed to work very well at adding suspense. I've never read a writing style like this that was so calm and descriptive an ...more
I struggle with words that will do this wonderful book justice, especially when Peter Heller writes so word perfectly and poetically. I am in awe and speechless at just how good this is. My only regret is that I waited so long, hoping my library would take my recommendation and purchase the audiobook, because Mark Deakins and Peter Heller were such an outstanding combo previously in The Painter.

Proof of Heller's perfect descriptions: The ebook had a map of the river and lakes, which I didn't vie
Addie H
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was ok

While “everybody” talks about not being able to put it down, I struggled repeatedly to keep picking it up!

At first, NOTHING HAPPENS for such a long time, even though they are made aware of a GIANT forest fire heading their way and they have about a 10-day paddle to do to get to safety. If that does not create tension what does?


It's exhaustingly descriptive (scenery, gear, flora, fauna, how to sit in the canoe, fly fishing techniques, and the smell of all kinds of things ) it borders on a textboo
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The River is good. Not just good but heart-pounding, stomach-dropping, page-turning good. I would expect nothing less from Peter Heller, who enthralled me with The Dog Stars and The Painters.

This time, he tackles the Canadian wilderness – a challenging canoe trip on the Maskwa River meticulously planned by best friends Jack and Wynn. Both are adventurous, easy-going, very self-sufficient, and literate. But as the trip progresses, we also learn the differences. Jack is rugged, pragmatic, and int
Jack and Wynn are two college friends attending Dartmouth who bonded in their freshman year over their love of fishing and all things nature. Jack’s from Colorado and Wynn is from Vermont, both from families with different lifestyles. They decide to take off the summer and the fall semester to canoe the Maskwa River in Colorado. While on the river, they smell smoke and realize a fire is encroaching, maybe only a few days away. However, they also come upon an isolated site where they hear a coupl ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Current
  • Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir
  • Ask Again, Yes
  • This Tender Land
  • The Last Romantics
  • The Dutch House
  • Evvie Drake Starts Over
  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota
  • Ayesha at Last
  • Nothing to See Here
  • The Glass Hotel
  • Miracle Creek
  • Recursion
  • The Mother-in-Law
  • Sea Wife
  • Long Bright River
  • Never Have I Ever
  • The Dearly Beloved
See similar books…
There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Peter Heller holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the autho

Articles featuring this book

Your 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal is just within reach, and we're here to help you finish the reading year with some great new...
113 likes · 55 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“What he loved about poetry: it could do in a few seconds what a novel did in days. A painting could be like that, too, and a sculpture. But sometimes you wanted something to take days and days.” 8 likes
“With everything seeming to fall apart, good habits were one thing to hold on to.” 7 likes
More quotes…