Leif Enger”s critically acclaimed novel, “Peace Like A River,” is a pioneering success. Enger, a former reporter and producer for a Midwest radio station, has entered the public eye with his latest literary masterpiece. Enger gives a work that reads like verse, psalm and melody with a touch of childlike flavor.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of The Atlantic Monthly Press

“Peace Like A River” captures the honesty, imagination and tenderness of childhood, evoking sentimental memories and heartwarming affinity from its audience. The novel”s bold and endearing cast recreates an Old West romantic flare, the sibling camaraderie of prepubescent years and the clandestine belief in miracles without a condescending or clich line. Enger delves into the Midwest of 1960 through the sincere voice of the novel”s 11year-old narrator, Rueben.

“Peace Like A River” opens with the nearly fatal birth of Rueben Land, a severe asthmatic. His father, Jeremiah, saves his son by working a miracle. “Dad turned back to me, a clay child wrapped in a canvas coat, and said in a normal voice, “Rueben Land, in the name of the living God I am telling you to breathe.”” The novel then dashes into the fast-paced account of the Land family”s surprising journey.

Davy Land, Rueben”s older brother, is arrested for the murder of the town”s unlawful bullies. The night before the ruling, Davy escapes on horseback deep into the Badlands of North Dakota and becomes the family”s noble outlaw. The Land family, Jeremiah, Rueben and Rueben”s eccentric little sister, Swede, embark on an unmapped quest throughout the Dakotas to search for the lost son and brother, Davy.

Through the adventures of this voyage in an Airstream trailer, Enger delivers moments of warmth, intrigue and miracle. Swede, a poet infatuated with western cowboys and bandits, notes the entire excursion in a western epic poem of hero, Sunny Sundown. “So many graves had Sundown dug, his hands were chapped and sore, and now he prayed to God for strength to live and dig one more.”

The relationship between Rueben and Swede is the unchallenged heart of the text. They admire, protect, and teach each other those valuable lessons about life that one can only truly learn in childhood. Swede presents the wild, imaginative character for which Rueben is in constant admiration. Although she is the positive genius of romance and satire, it is Rueben Land that creates the unforgettable moments of the text. An embarrassing yet winning hero, he charges the book with strength and unlikely courage.

Though “Peace Like A River” may seem unbelievable with its tale of a fugitive brother, the profound baby sister, and the miracle-working father, the novel never assumes the feel of a fantastical fable. It only recaptures the innocent vantage of a young boy in adoration of his older brother, in esteem of his intelligent sister and a sweet reliance on his saintly father. The text offers moments of humor, grief, wonder and peace with an astounding and precious ending that will leave you in a personal attachment with its unforgettable characters.

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