Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bookish Thoughts: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

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. ~ Opening from Peace Like a River


Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001
Fiction; 312 pgs

From the Publisher:
[Leif Enger's] richly evocative novel, narrated by an asthmatic 11-year-old named Reuben Land, is the story of Reuben's unusual family and their journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother. Charged with the murder of two locals who terrorized their family, Davy has fled, understanding that the scales of justice will not weigh in his favor. But Reuben, his father, Jeremiah—a man of faith so deep he has been known to produce miracles—and Reuben's little sister, Swede, follow closely behind the fleeing Davy.
Affecting and dynamic, Peace Like a River is at once a tragedy, a romance, and an unflagging exploration into the spirituality and magic possible in the everyday world, and in that of the world awaiting us on the other side of life.

I had a couple reservations as I began reading the novel. The synopsis I initially read hinted at a strong faith, possibly religious aspect, which I worried I might find off putting. And while the opening of the book hooked me right away, the slow pacing soon after almost lost me. I pushed on though, and soon was rewarded with a thoughtful tale of a young boy's coming of age and his family's fight to stay together.

The reader is first introduced to Reuben Land as he recalls his birth, a rough start to be sure. I really liked Reuben's voice. He's a grown man, sharing his experiences as a boy, at a time when his innocence and the realities of the world begin to collide.  In many ways, Reuben is your typical 11 year old. He's also very thoughtful. I admit I was most drawn to Reuben's sister Swede, however, with her stories and gift with words. Enger uses Swede as a way to tell a story within a story, drawing on the Old West, tales of villains and cowboy heroes. There are parallels between the two stories, the one invented by Swede and the one Swede and Reuben are living. The black and white of good and evil begins to show shades of gray and everything isn't so easily placed now.  There is also the question of faith, which has always played a big part in the Land family's life. Their faith is tested and Reuben, in particular, begins to doubt what is right and wrong and what his role in all of it should be. We see this play out with Reuben's health too, the more he doubts, the more he makes poor decisions, the worse he begins to feel physically.

Jeremiah, the father, obviously loves his family. He is a good man, blessed with the ability to do miracles. Jeremiah's own faith is tested when his eldest son is charged with murder and escapes--he struggles with the right and wrong of his son's actions and what role he must play as his father. He knows he wants his family together; he wants to save his eldest son, Davy.

I started off like Reuben and Swede in terms of Davy and wanting him to get away. The more we learn though--the more gray the situation gets. Davy's heart was in the right place, but did he do the right thing? Does he feel remorse? All of these questions ran through my head as I read the book. I liked Davy from the start, including his protectiveness of his family. And yet I questioned some of the choices he made over the course of the novel.

The biggest disappointment in the novel for me was the ending. I felt that the ending veered in a direction that left me unsatisfied and took away from the rest of the novel. I wanted--expected--more. As is always the case, it is impossible to get into specifics without spoiling the book when talking about the end.

Peace Like a River was not a book I could--or wanted--to read in a day. The action is slow going, the writing the kind that sweeps you up and carries you along as if on a calm river boat ride.  It's a story about a family, one that has endured many hardships and yet still maintains a strong faith in life and in each other.

Source: Many thanks to Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads for sharing this book with me through our postal bookclub! 


© 2015, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

17 comments:

  1. Hmm... I thought the premise sounds good but bummer on the slow pacing and the ending. I think I'd have to give this a miss.

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    1. Melody - You might still like this, Melody. I know many people did. I really liked the middle part of the book. :-)

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  2. I've heard the title of this book a lot but really didn't know much about it. The slow pace doesn't appeal to me right now so I'll probably skip it.

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    1. Kathy - I had heard of it too, but hadn't really considered reading it. I go through phases where slow pacing doesn't bother me and then other times it does. I think it depends a lot on my mood.

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  3. I read this years ago and loved his writing and that flowing, poetic style is what I remember.

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    1. Jenclair - I did like the writing. Poetic is a good way to describe it. :-) And I might have ended up loving this one except for the direction the author took towards the end. It really bugged me.

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  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it! It is a slower read--which is something I sometimes enjoy (obviously, since I sent out the book!)

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    1. Melinda - I feel the same way. Sometimes a slower read is just what I need. It helps me slow down and appreciate the little details more.

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  5. The slow pace may be a bit off putting but glad you persisted as your review shows you appreciated the writing. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Mystica - I did. I think Enger is a talented writer in that respect.

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  6. That's too bad about the slow pace and the ending. The story itself though sounds like a moving one.

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    1. Naida - It really is a moving story. There was a lot I liked about the book, even if not everything.

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  7. Just reading the blurb my first thought was "nope, not for me" but after reading your review I'm reconsidering. The characters sound like they're really worth getting to know. A slow pace doesn't grab me right now but I will put this on my list for later.

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    1. Katherine - I'd be interested to know your take on it. I would have enjoyed this one a lot more if not for the twist near the ending.

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  8. I absolutely loved this one when I read it years ago, and keep telling myself I should reread it one of these days.

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    1. Carrie - I know a lot of people loved this book. I liked most of it. :-) Much better than Owen Meany, which I didn't care for at all.

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  9. This is one of my top 20 books I have ever read. What a story, I loved the son who had to flee for his life. The family, protecting the sister, the setting of the wild area, I loved it all.

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