Peace Like a River by Leif Enger was originally published in 2001. My hardcover copy has 313 pages. This extraordinary, well written novel is a quiet story about a family. Narrated by adult Rueben, looking back as an eleven year old, his story is the stuff of personal mythology, the bedrock out of which family histories are built. Yes, it's not all completely realistic, but I believe it is a realistic recollection of memories as seen by an adult remembering this time of turmoil in their family. You can clearly see the father's moral compass, faith, and sense of purpose. You can understand Rueben's struggle with a big decision. And maybe 8 year old Swede couldn't really be expected to write that well or make a complete turkey dinner, but maybe, just maybe, the writing and dinner were perfect because Rueben remembers it that way and because Jeremiah would have reacted that way. Enger's Peace Like a River is a story of family, faith, doubt, history, fantasy, love, evil, innocence, goodness, and hope. I highly recommend this book. Rating: 4.5
Synopsis from cover
Leif Enger's debut is an extraordinary novel -an epic of generosity and heart that reminds us of the restorative power of literature. The story of a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota, Peace Like a River is at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, a love story, and a haunting meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.
Raised on tales of cowboys and pirates, eleven-year-old Rueben Land has little doubt that miracles happen all around us, and that it's up to us to "make of it what we will." Rueben was born with no air in his lungs, and it was only when his father, Jeremiah, picked him up and commanded him to breathe that his lungs filled. Rueben struggles with debilitating asthma from then on, making him a boy who knows firsthand that life is a gift, and also one who suspects that his father is touched by God and can overturn the laws of nature.
The quiet midwestern life of the Lands is upended when Davy, the oldest son, kills two marauders who have come to harm the family; unlike his father, he is not content to leave all matters of justice in God's hands. The morning of his sentencing, Davy - a hero to some, a cold blooded murderer to others - escapes from his cell, and the Lands set out in search of him. Their journey is touched by serendipity and the kindness of strangers - among them Roxanna, who offers them a place to stay during a blizzard and winds up providing them with something far more permanent. Meanwhile, a federal agent is trailing the Lands, convinced they know of Davy's whereabouts.
With Jeremiah at the helm, the family covers territory far more extraordinary than even the Badlands where they search for Davy from their airstream trailer. Sprinkled with playful nods to biblical tales, beloved classics... and westerns of Zane Grey, Peace Like a River unfolds like a revelation.
"From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with - given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century." pg. 1
"As mother cried out, Dad turned 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." pg. 3
"Real miracles bother people, like strange pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: they rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in." pg. 3
"I believe I was preserved, through those twelve airless minutes, in order to be a witness, and as a witness, let me say that a miracle is no cute thing, but more like the swing of a sword. If he were here to begin the account, I believe Dad would say what he said to Swede and me on the worst night of all our lives:
We and the world, my children, will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible.
Arm yourselves." pg. 4
"Swede and I had been used to oratory; our former pastor could exhort like everything and owned what Dad said must be a special edition of the Holy bible, for it contained things omitted from our own - references to card-playing, for example, and rock and roll, and the Russian people." pg. 28
"Be careful whom you choose to hate.
The small and the vulnerable own a protection great enough, if you could but see it, to melt you into jelly.
Beware of those who reside beneath the shadow of the Wings." pg. 36
"We wondered how well we'd do in front of Dad - how grateful we could appear for a gift of, say, a navel orange." pg. 109
"Swede said no conversation in any room but the kitchen was worth overhearing anyway, something I'd guess is still true in much of North Dakota." pg. 138
"The fog lay rich and steamy over the barnyard. It was warm as manure; you could weigh it in a cupped hand. And it really did smell like April, though I noticed that it also smelled of wet dog; the two are not dissimilar." pg. 142