Friday, May 22, 2009

Peace Like A River - Leif Enger

Summary: Dead for 10 minutes before his father orders him to breathe in the name of the living God, Reuben Land is living proof that the world is full of miracles. But it's the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale. From the vantage point of adulthood, Reuben tells how his father rescued his brother Davy's girlfriend from two attackers, how that led to Davy being jailed for murder and how, once Davy escapes and heads south for the Badlands of North Dakota, 12-year-old Reuben, his younger sister Swede and their janitor father light out after him. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase, just as he had a part to play in his brother's trial. It's the kind of story that used to be material for ballads, and Enger twines in numerous references to the Old West, chiefly through the rhymed poetry Swede writes about a hero called Sunny Sundown. That the story is set in the early '60s in Minnesota gives it an archetypal feel, evoking a time when the possibility of getting lost in the country still existed. Enger has created a world of signs, where dead crows fall in a snowstorm and vagrants lie curled up in fields, in which everything is significant, everything has weight and comprehension is always fleeting. This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a North Dakota winter, a novel about faith, miracles and family that is, ultimately, miraculous.
(from Publishers Weekly, cover photo from

My Review: Reuben Land is a grown man now but the tale he narrates of perhaps the most important time of his life happened when he was just 12 years old. Reuben's brother, Davy, is going on trial for the murder of two bad boys from the small town the Land family resides in. It's a murder which Reuben witnessed, one which Reuben believes was in self defense. When Davy breaks out of jail, the Land family follows shortly after in search for him. It's a journey where Reuben will discover much about his values, his family, and faith in God, as well as in others.

The core of this story is fairly solid. It's truly a story about family love and how blinding that love can be, both for the better and worse. It is also a story of religious faith and how that faith fits with life and love. The core I can swallow, it's getting down to it that was so difficult for me.

One problem I had with the story was that the characters were unbelievable. The dad, Jeremiah Land, performs miracle after miracle. I can see how in retailing a story from childhood a boy could easily find his dad and the tasks he performed bigger than life, especially from a dad with such strong faith and religious teachings. I can get past this. It Swede's character (the younger sister) that really killed me. Here is a girl that writes amazing poetry (and this poetry fits in incredibly well with the happenings in the book and was probaly my favorite part of the novel). However it just feels too mature for a girl of her age. Swede also speaks as an adult would most of the time, yet at various points once again reverts to the thinking of a 9 year old girl. I wish the author would have made her character a bit older as I think it would have made the whole story work better.

I would have to say the main difficulty for me with this novel was the writing style. It reminded me a bit of Ian McEwan's Atonement, in that it was extremely detailed. The author uses metaphor after metaphor. Don't get me wrong, I usually love metaphors as they help the reader visualize the story better but too many metaphors remind me of too much icing on a cake. It's good for the first couple bites but quickly becomes too sweet and therefore must be digested in small doses. (How's that for a metaphor?) Maybe that is why it took me over two weeks to get through only 300 pages.

I really wanted to love this story, as it seems many others did but I couldn't bring myself to. I close the cover on this book feeling like I missed something. There has to be a reason so many are gushing over this novel and I am sure that several of you know exactly what it is. It just wasn't there for me though and I sincerely doubt I will be able to bring myself to pick it up again to discover just what this reason is.

My Rating: 2 Stars

If I had to sum this book up in one sentence: A book loved by many, but not by me.


Marlyse and Kenny said...

Amen. It's been about 10 years, but I remember feeling the same way you did when I finished. I think I read it for a class and was never sure why the professor selected it. There might be more to it but I'm not willing to read it again to find out.

MindySue said...

Wow. thanks for helping me make up my mind. I can't make it to book club and now I don't feel so bad about not having read the book yet. If it reminds you even remotely of Atonement then I'm not interested in reading it either. Thanks Heather for taking one for the team!!!

Kim R. said...

I second that, Mindy! I think I will pick up the book, but I am not in such a hurry to do so......To many other good ones on my list.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Since this is a fairly recent review, I thought I would add my "two cents" -- I really enjoyed this book. We just finished this book last month for our book review. I fell in love with Swede and Reuben (especailly Swede). I loved the relationship they developed with Roxanna -- and her romance with Jeremiah. I've read Atonement too -- and I don't see the similarity at all. I was disappointed with the ending -- but can see where Jeremiah saved both Reuben at the beginning of his life and the end. Based on your ratings, I would have given it 4 stars.

Heather said...

Like I said in the review, I believe this is either a book you will really like or one that you just don't get. It wasn't there for me.
By stating that I found it similar to Atonement, I merely meant the writing style (overly detailed with tons of analogies). I was not referring to the story line.
I know many people who have enjoyed this book (which is why I picked it up in the first place) and would also give it 4 or 5 stars.


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