Title: Peace Like a River
Author: Leif Enger
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Length: 313 pages
Synopsis: Peace Like a River is the story of the adventure of a lifetime undertaken by the Land family when the eldest son, Davy, goes “on the lam” after shooting and killing intruders who break into their home seeking revenge over a feud. The story is told by Rueben Land, the nine year old asthmatic son of Jeremiah Land. Jeremiah, whose name is surely no accident, reaches a level of spirituality and power with God akin to that of an Old Testament prophet when viewed through the eyes of his son, whom he compelled, as a newborn with no breath in his lungs, to breathe “in the name of the living God” (3). Through a series of small miracles (‘though really, when is a miracle small?), the Lands find Davy, and in so doing, Reuben experiences his own coming-of-age. This book is a rollicking adventures from the first page, but it is also a very thoughtful and thought-provoking read. This one is pure enjoyment.
My Thoughts: It seems that I have hit the jackpot these past few weeks. After reading this, how would I even hope for another wonderful, don’t-want-it-to-end novel anytime soon? Well, let me just say that Peace Like a River is all of that and more. When I first started reading this book, two things came to mind: first, this book is an adventure in the grandest sense of the word. Second, why on earth would a book like this have such a title? Of course, knowing a little bit about Leif Enger’s writing by this point, I knew the title was not chosen by accident. Let me just say that you have to read the whole story to understand the title, and it’s really not what you think. Jeremiah Land is one of those characters I will not soon forget (and indeed, each character in this novel is memorable). Jeremiah, whose turning point in life came when he survived being taken up in a tornado (a whirlwind, if you will), is happy to forsake his promising trajectory as a medical school student and do the work his hand finds to do, even as a school janitor:
Dad, he himself would say, was baptized by that tornado into a life of new ambitions–interpreted by many, including my mother, as a life of no ambitions. Finishing out that semester, he moved his family off campus and found work as a plumber’s assistant. This was the anticlimactic denouement to his whispered tornado story: Having been whisked through four miles of debris-cluttered sky, having been swallowed by the wrath of God and been kept not just safe but unbruised inside it, having been awakened midmorning in a fallow field by a face-liking retriever–Dad’s response was to leave his prosperous track and plunge his hands joyfully into the sewer. An explanation is beyond me other than to repeat what he would often say, the story ended, his hands tucking up the blankets, “I was treated so gently up there, kids.” (55-56)
This book reminds me a little bit of the movie Stand by Me or the television show “The Wonder Years,” primarily due to the novel’s tone and style. Replete with Biblical and literary allusions (and its own poet, Reuben’s larger-than-life sister, Swede), this book is as satisfying as they come. I’m eager to read Enger’s next novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, which I just checked out from the library today.