Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Great book--I recommend it highly!
Though set in the early sixties, Peace Like a River reads like an old Western, with the Land family trailing after the outlaw older brother. I loved the descriptions of the hard North Dakota winter as much as I loved the characters, especially Swede, the narrator's precocious and romantic writer sister. Reuben Land narrates the family's story; he is the second son, burdened with debilitating asthma and a hero's worship of his dad and older brother Davy.
As a reader, you're led along with Reuben as the drama matures him. I admit, I shared his starry-eyed admiration of Davy and his defense of him almost right up until Reuben finally admits to himself that what Davy did was wrong. I found Reuben interesting, partially because the descriptions of his asthmatic affliction felt right on--I know what it's like to have your lungs seize up and turn against you, and Enger conveys the awful sensation well--and also because Reuben, despite having witnessed various miracles, remains somewhat of a skeptic. He's a likeable kid, naive at times, and too hard on himself most of the time. He's also cognizant of telling the story. (I love novels with a sort of "meta" quality to them, works that comment on the act of storytelling itself.) He explains in the beginning that he believes his purpose is to be a witness, and I like that he is telling the story, rather than Swede, whom he often refers to as better equipped to write it. She may be the more talented writer, but Reuben is a better witness.
I always enjoy novels that are character driven, probing the inner workings of another human being and his or her motivations and thought processes. Peace Like a River manages to combine rich character development with a plot that leads a reader to wonder where it's going next and how it's going to get there, and where it will eventually leave us. To me, that's a nice bonus.
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