The River at Night builds slowly.
Much of this book is setup, but interesting setup.
We learn the main character Wini’s backstory. She’s already clawed her way back from a series of life-changing crises.
Or maybe “clawed her way back” isn’t accurate. It’s more like she’s endured them and still manages to put one foot in front of the other each day, even if all of those steps trigger painful memories.
This is an excellent plot device that makes me think of Stephen King’s On Writing, which gives tips on, well, writing. It’s been years since I’ve read it, so I’m paraphrasing (badly), but the jist he sets up is this:
Imagine someone who’s been through hell. Absolute hell. They’ve faced their personal demons and managed to keep going. Could be alcoholism. Could be an abusive ex. Any number of catastrophes.
They’ve spiraled down to the depths, then climbed and climbed until, with aching muscles, they find shaky footing on earth again. They aren’t victors; they’re survivors who are still in the unsure process of surviving.
Then their real story begins.
And that’s where it begins for Wini. Of course, there’s an entire story before the events of the book, but that history makes her reaction to the new challenges before her so much more interesting.
The action central to this story doesn’t happen until halfway through the book. We spend a good amount of time getting to know and care about the characters.
The characters do lack a bit of nuance. They seem stuck in their roles: woman-hating hillbilly, man-hating professional woman, shrinking violet.
As is our wont when reading books, The River at Night can be compared to any number of other literary works. You can practically hear the banjo music heralding the approach of backwoods evil.
But don’t think about it as Deliverance for ladies. First, it wouldn’t be at all accurate. This is a whole different story.
Second…just read the book. It’s good.