Review by Frank Plowright
It’s Cold in the River at Night is a very strange unravelling that begins as if setting up a horror story. It has the necessary ingredients of the remote location, the young and isolated couple, and the creepy landlord, but while what happens is downright strange, we never get the full on horror fulfilment.
Carl and Rita have moved from the city to the only house on stilts surviving on a river. The isolation will help Rita work on her thesis, while Carl has idealistic notions about being unable to fulfil his potential while living in the city. Shortly after arriving they discover a book with photographs showing that boat shaped coffins were once built in the area. Having proved incapable in other respects, Carl decides his future lies in learning how to make those boat shaped coffins.
Simplicity is key to both the art and the writing, with Alex Potts excellent at distilling what needs to be said into very little dialogue. Carl and Rita’s relationship is deteriorating, primarily due to Carl’s frustration at himself, and this is concisely conveyed, as is Rita’s understanding personality. Beyond that, there are only two notable cast members. Potts sketches the landlord well, concealing lechery beneath concern, but the other main character remains a mystery, taciturn and uncommunicative. His portrait garnishes the cover, and he’s the source of nearly all the story’s subsequent tension.
As the protagonist, Carl receives the most attention, and the way Potts depicts him reflects his personality well. He’s hunched and slouched, looking quizzical or angry, and moments of pride and satisfaction are small and short-lived. Space is accentuated, both on the river and on the shore, with Carl so often drawn as the isolated and lonely figure he is.
While Potts had a clear idea about his cast and what he wanted to do with them, he doesn’t seem to have known how to end his story, and the way he does starts well, but meanders toward indulgence. This needed a definitive conclusion, not the puzzle of working out whether anything of value has been learned. It leaves It’s Cold in the River at Night as promising and intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying.