Friday, March 15, 2019

Virgil Wander - Leif Enger

Summary: The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals--from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man; to Tom, a journalist and Virgil's oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a "formidably gifted" (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Leif Enger is the kind of writer who reminds you that it’s really, in the end, all about the writing. The story is obviously key as well, but if there’s a good story it doesn’t matter if the writing sucks. A writer, in the sense of Enger, is able to come up with a good story and then execute it to the point that the story is just awesome. It elevates it; takes it to a new level. I don’t know if you’ve read Peace Like a River, which was one of Time magazine’s top-five novels of the year in 2001 and was a bestseller. His second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome was also a bestseller in 2008. I’m just saying—the man is worth reading. If you haven’t read these books, I assure you that you can trust in him to write a good story and execute it in such a way that you just know he’s an exceptional writer.

I thought this book was excellent. I loved Peace Like a River, and when I began reading this book all those fuzzy warm feelings came back to me. Enger’s writing is old-timey and nostalgic, but it is also very real and doesn’t dance around harsh realities or struggles. Virgil Wander, in particular, has some dark times. The book itself is gently humorous. I loved Virgil Wander, the main character. His voice was just so specific that I felt like he was my friend, and yet I discovered things about him all the time. He wasn’t an entirely reliable narrator, which was so well done in this instance. I do love a good unreliable narrator. This one was no exception.

The characters in this book feel real. They have real problems and real flaws, but they are also endearing and good—just like real people, ya know? There are quirks that make this town in Minnesota feel so real and yet nostalgic. It’s an interesting mix of being able to watch the town and just knowing that you could show up and find these characters living their lives. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they actually existed. They felt real. On the other hand, it’s so beautiful and nostalgic-feeling that you can’t help believe that it’s also a story—and a good one. The town is quirky, the people are quirky, the story is quirky, and you can’t help but just love it all and appreciate Enger gently guiding you through this little slice of America. I firmly believe that Enger could take any piece of America and any collection of lives and make them seem notable and story-worthy.

I think this is a great piece of fiction. I wish all fiction books were more like this—well-written, well-executed, and an interesting story that doesn’t weigh too heavily nor move too lightly for what it is. I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of love scenes, but nothing graphic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently read this novel and while I love Virgil Wander, I didn't have the same reaction to Leif Enger's writing style as you. The book was a let down for me which was a bummer because I really adored Virgil as the main character! I love that you describe him as an unreliable narrator. How accurate!! I don't know if I'll read the other books you recommend by Enger. I just couldn't get past what I felt was a slow meandering walk around a town whose characters and all their well written personalities never did anything. I felt that the plot never when anywhere. What did I miss? :)


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