At the beginning of The River, Brian Robeson opens his front door to three men. They ask if he is the Brian Robeson who survived for fifty-four days alone in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. Brian says yes. He thinks at first that the men are with the press, but they explain that they work for the government, teaching and providing psychological support for a military survival school. They want Brian to take one of them into the woods and show them how to survive.
“It’s a joke, right?” Brian asks—but he soon realizes that the men are serious. His period in the woods, which he thinks of as simply “the Time,” changed him, made him see and hear everything differently. Nobody can really understand how it felt to rely totally on himself, to re-discover fire, and to experience hunger that felt like it would never end. Brian tries to explain this to the men, but they reply that this is exactly what they want to learn. Eventually, with his parents’ consent, Brian decides to go.
Brian knows that his decision seems crazy. Most of what he remembers of the Time was terrible, but there were good parts too: the beauty of nature, and a sense of being capable of taking care of himself. People always assume that the Time hurt him, but he knows it did not. Instead, it made him a better person. He is quieter and more serious, but also closer to his mother and more able to accept hard realities, like his parents’ divorce.
Two weeks after Brian meets the three men, he and a military psychologist, Derek, board a bush plane to northern Canada. They consider bringing an elaborate set of back-up supplies, “just for emergencies,” but at the last minute Brian decides that they need to leave the gear behind. The only supplies Brian allows are a radio, in case they need to call for help, and an all-weather briefcase containing some spiral notebooks so that Derek can record what he learns. In addition to this, Brian and Derek each have a pocketknife.
The moment Brian lands on the lake, he finds himself reverting to the behaviors he learned during the Time. He notices everything around him: every bird, every plant, the feel of the air and the clouds. He realizes that it is going to rain in just six or seven hours, and he sets immediately to work making fire and shelter.
Derek works to help him erect a simple lean-to, but Brian fails to find flint, the kind of stone he needs to...
(The entire section is 2548 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The River Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!