Nina Revoyr’s new novel sends four people of diverse experience and racial background into the Sierra Mountains in California. When they literally go off the beaten path, they stumble into danger and must use their will and wits to survive.
The book’s biggest strength is the way in which Revoyr is able to portray the wilderness as both idyllic and dangerous. The characters struggle even before things take a frightening turn, but they also take great comfort in the natural world. And as their situation begins to look truly grim, the beauty of nature still offers a balm.
The predictability of the story’s arc is perhaps the book’s biggest weakness. As Revoyr introduces her characters — three of the four of whom rotate as the perspective character — we know almost immediately what role they must play in the story. The most timid character will be called upon to show the most strength; the least racially sensitive character will learn important lessons that breakdown his preconceptions; the character who takes others for granted will have to rely on others to survive.
But Revoyr manages to maintain the mystery around one of the protagonists, in large part by never shifting to her perspective. Also, the author has a knack for delivering a surprise in the same way a good horror movie director does. You know the bad stuff is coming, but the moment and manner of delivery is executed with precision. The true adventure doesn’t start until nearly halfway through the novel, but once it does, Revoyr crafts it well.