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Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
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Peace Like a River (original 2001; edition 2002)

by Leif Enger

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3,8161061,358 (4.05)174
Member:countrylife
Title:Peace Like a River
Authors:Leif Enger
Info:Atlantic Monthly Press (2002), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, Wishlist
Rating:*****
Tags:( FICTION, T.20 th century, T.1960s, P.US states - North Dakota, P.US states - Minnesota, | loved it, challenge: 50states, | FAVORITE!, from:library-bell, Read 2009, reviewed, {cover-member, 4-A list, Read

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Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (2001)

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I don't usually reread books and I probably wouldn't have reread this one except for the fact that it came to me in my Postal Mailbox Book Club. I remembered the general shape of the novel but not the particulars this many years out from my first reading so I thought it necessary to do a complete reread to be able to discuss it intelligently rather than just vaguely. I have searched for my review from so many years ago, hoping to compare my first reading with this one but it is apparently lost in the mists of the internet. What I do remember of that first reading, is that the book was fine and that I was odd man out in not being wowed by it. This second reading crystalized that feeling for me. It is still just fine.

It is the early 1960s in Roofing, Minnesota. Reuben Land lives there with his father Jeremiah, older brother Davy, and younger sister Swede. Their mother has long since abandoned them. Reuben is an asthmatic who owes his very life to his father's ability to work miracles; it is only through Jeremiah's command and laying on of hands that Reuben started to breathe many long minutes after his birth. When the story opens, Reuben is eleven and his father, a janitor at the school, has stepped in in the girls' locker room to protect Davy's girlfriend from an assault by two hoodlums in town. The boys fight back, first by vandalizing the Land's home, and then by Swede from and then returning her to her own home. The escalation of hostilities, in which Jeremiah Land refuses to participate, reaches a head when the boys break into the Land's home one night and Davy shoots and kills them in cold blood. When Davy is put on trial for murder, he breaks out of jail and escapes. Reuben, Swede, and their father try to track him down before the Feds do, trailing him into the surreal landscape of the Badlands.

Reuben is presented as idolizing his older brother and his father both so he doesn't know whether he should root for Davy's complete disappearance or for Jeremiah, who appears to be being led by God, to find Davy. He is trying to figure his way in the world amid all of his conflicting feelings and the knowledge that even his highly moral father is wrestling with what is right. Younger sister Swede is barely nine and she has the convictions of a young child in terms of right and wrong. But even she starts to have her notions of black and white challenged, as reflected in the epic Western poem she writes throughout the action of the story. Her poem is a problem though, too precocious by far for a child her age, even one who is incredibly smart and well read and her understanding of events is too quick for a child with as few life experiences as she has had. Davy as a character is harder to know. Not only is he missing from a large chunk of the narrative but even when he is present, he is inscrutable to the reader. Whether he is intentionally drawn this way is the question.

The novel is narrated by Reuben from the vantage point of adulthood but it still manages to capture most of the scene through the eyes of a child giving the narrative a slightly jarring back and forth feeling. Although the action is in mainly trying to find Davy, the story is also a Gospel of Jeremiah, the recounting of his miracles and his Job-like trials at the hands of God. There is a definite heaven and hell dichotomy and a strong core of religious belief here despite the fact that Enger never preaches to the reader, tapping into a deep vein of faith and morality. The writing about place is beautiful, evocative, and powerful and there is a controlled stillness to the narrative. In plot terms, there is a big conundrum in trying to find Davy. While Jeremiah is certainly being led by a Higher Being to his son, there is no indication that Davy is being led to find his family in the same way or through the same catalyst so his sudden ability to turn up feels too convenient. The general pace of the narrative is slow; sometimes this hinders the story and at other times it highlights it so on balance it works out okay. The ending of the story comes full circle to the beginning and as such is too frustratingly predictable and an obvious set-up. Over all though, this is a decent coming of age tale, one of sacrifice and heroism, right and wrong, good and evil, and mixed with a folksy Americana version of morality. ( )
  whitreidtan | Feb 25, 2015 |
I had this book sitting in my pile for a long time. Several times I looked at it contemplating the reading of it and then set it aside for something else. I should have grabbed it a long time ago. It was a wonderful story and different from most "modern" books.

Although set in 1963, it reads more like a book from the late 1800's or early 1900's. Not in the sense of story but more in the sense of language and phrasing. The prose is sometimes poetic (bot literally and figuratively) but in a way that paints a very good picture. In addition, if you like words, there is a strong, sassy young female character who plays with language and writing.

All of the characters are interesting. My one disappointment, if you could call it that, was the character of Davy. He starts out strong and is a prominent force throughout the novel but is never as clearly defined as Rueben, Swede, Jeremiah or even Roxanna. There are also some threads left dangling in the story that leave you vaguely unsettled at the end. That leads me to rate this with 4 stars rather than 5.

The other weakness for me is that one important component of the story revolves around faith. There is always ambiguity in the discussion which is realistic but I felt that there were a lot of unanswered, as well as unasked, questions by the characters and about the characters with regard to where they stood. I suppose the author was asking you at times to read between the lines but for those of us who are spiritual without necessarily being religious, it was disquieting. There were Bible references but from a particular rendition and tradition and without that religious instruction or understanding of the historical meanings behind the denominations, it was indecipherable to me. I also had no interest in following up by delving more deeply into that whole arena at this time. For those who are religious, or have some religious instruction, they might get more out of that part of the book.

This is a thought provoking satisfying read. It kept me interested and I was able to enter the world of the story quickly. The end of the story is a little rushed and neat but it doesn't detract from the beautiful writing which is what I enjoyed the most. ( )
  ozzieslim | Dec 28, 2014 |
Enjoyed very much. Thought-provoking. Well-written character thought processes. ( )
  alrtree | Sep 3, 2014 |
Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

It’s difficult, really, to explain a novel like Peace Like a River. I try to be discriminating about how often I give five stars when I review books, so that when I do, it really means something. Here, five stars doesn’t even feel like enough. Trite quips like “tour de force” and “emotional powerhouse” come to mind as I try to think of how to describe this book, but overall, the feeling one comes away with after reading it is still, quiet power. There were moments in Enger’s writing that made me stop and think about what I believed, what I loved, and what I thought was true about life. I don’t know how to ask anything more from writing.

More impressively, Enger manages to be an impressively entertaining author: his story about Reuben and his family is wholly engaging, entertaining, quirkily funny, and entirely charming. Think along the lines of [b:A River Runs through It|38300|A River Runs Through It|Norman Maclean|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1388204089s/38300.jpg|23680709]…only, in my case, more interesting and touching. Let me put it this way: I cracked this open for the first time while sitting down on the bed to put some lotion on my feet before turning in, and found myself totally unable to focus on anything but what I was reading. It’s *that* well-written. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Clean. Amazing. 5 stars. ( )
  fefferbooks | May 12, 2014 |
The prose is better than the plot. ( )
1 vote Brainannex | Mar 30, 2014 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
To Robin
The country ahead is as wild a spread
As ever we're likely to see

The horses are dancing to start the advance--
Won't you ride on with me?
First words
From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with - given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century.
Quotations
So thoughtlessly we sling on our destinies.
Thinking of supper, I asked, “You want us to do anything, Dad?”
“Persevere,” he said.
I’m sorry if you thought better of me, but the fact is I spent whole hours imagining alarming humiliations for those kids - big dumb kids, always with effortless all-star lungs. … It’s true. No grudge ever had a better nurse.
I couldn’t put words to it, but Swede, as usual, could.
This still happens with Swede and me. I’ll lack a word, and she’ll dump out a bushel of them.
“My sympathies,” Dad said. “Appreciated but gratuitous,” the woman replied – and Swede would have loved her forever for that phrase alone –
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802139256, Paperback)

To the list of great American child narrators that includes Huck Finn and Scout Finch, let us now add Reuben "Rube" Land, the asthmatic 11-year-old boy at the center of Leif Enger's remarkable first novel, Peace Like a River. Rube recalls the events of his childhood, in small-town Minnesota circa 1962, in a voice that perfectly captures the poetic, verbal stoicism of the northern Great Plains. "Here's what I saw," Rube warns his readers. "Here's how it went. Make of it what you will." And Rube sees plenty.

In the winter of his 11th year, two schoolyard bullies break into the Lands' house, and Rube's big brother Davy guns them down with a Winchester. Shortly after his arrest, Davy breaks out of jail and goes on the lam. Swede is Rube's younger sister, a precocious writer who crafts rhymed epics of romantic Western outlawry. Shortly after Davy's escape, Rube, Swede, and their father, a widowed school custodian, hit the road too, swerving this way and that across Minnesota and North Dakota, determined to find their lost outlaw Davy. In the end it's not Rube who haunts the reader's imagination, it's his father, torn between love for his outlaw son and the duty to do the right, honest thing. Enger finds something quietly heroic in the bred-in-the-bone Minnesota decency of America's heartland. Peace Like a River opens up a new chapter in Midwestern literature. --Claire Dederer

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:54 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Eleven-year-old asthmatic Reuben Land chronicles the Land family's odyssey in search of Reuben's older brother, Davy, who has escaped from jail before he can stand trial for the killing of two marauders who came to their Minnesota farm to harm the family. A first novel. Reprint.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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