So I have to confess, I wrote most of this post when I still had 23 pages left until the end of the book. Keep in mind this is my second time reading through this book…..but…..I had forgotten how it ended.
This was me as I finished it this morning:
So remember that as you read on through this glowing recommendation: I think the ending makes it even better, but you will feel all the feels!
Now, on to my original post.
I love it when a book comes along that is not just a captivating story, nor does it just string words together to form a delicious phrase, but the story contains elements that lift my spirits and strengthen my faith as well. Leif Enger published his novel Peace Like a River in 2001, and I have read it twice for all three of these reasons!
This is a story about a family, specifically a father and his three kids, who have to deal with a decision made by a family member and the subsequent consequences of that decision. Because I am so drawn to fully and beautifully developed characters, I have soooo fallen in love with this family. The story is told from the point of view of 11-year-old Reuben Land, owner of a pair of weak lungs but observant eyes, with an abundance of delightful and entertaining input from his precocious, 8-year-old sister Swede, a budding author and poet. (She’s my favorite, I’m not gonna lie.) Davy, their stoic yet confident older brother, is the one who makes the decision that ultimately determines the track of this story…and his future. There are other characters in the mix that round out the tale, such as Andreeson “the putrid fed”, the gracious Mr. and Mrs. DeCuellar, the not-beautiful but beautiful Roxanna, even the surprisingly generous Tin Lurvy.
But Jeremiah Land, Reuben’s father, is a humble man of great integrity and deep faith, and his relationship with “King James”, not to mention his robust prayer life, galvanized my own faith. What gives me peace like a river (in my soul, in my soul!) when I am reading this book is how Jeremiah fervently seeks out the Lord throughout the trials that face his family. He is overheard arguing with the Lord, laughing with Him, calling out in anguish, and worshiping. And the Lord responds, sometimes in ways that are reminiscent of God’s friendship with Abraham in the Bible.
Although it’s not a cowboy story, it feels like one, as the family ventures west into the Badlands and there is much horseback riding involved– even though the events are taking place in 1962. What adds to the cowboy climate is Swede’s love of westerns and her own personally designed hero, Sunny Sundown, whom we meet at different intervals throughout the story. (Swede’s character is almost unbelievable, but you will love her just the same!)
This is a rich and thoughtful story that will captivate you and also provoke you to consider what you would do if you found yourself in this family’s situation. It will make you smile, shudder, applaud, ponder, and laugh out loud. And, if you’re familiar with the song, the title will sing in your mind for many days afterwards.
A few of the phrases from the book that were melt-in-your-mouth delicious:
Swede didn’t answer but swabbed the dishes and rinsed them and laid them up to dry. Normally I’d have taken a towel and wiped them myself, but it’s difficult to do productive work and fume simultaneously – the labor dissipates your righteous steam – so I stood glaring at the back of her little blond head, which was tilted in thoughtful mien. (pages 122-123)
Though I’ll defend her narrative to the last, Swede’s journalistic technique precluded the attendance of one or two facts – for example, not only was Davy not riding a horse any longer, he was driving a Studebaker, its floorboards rotted to mere embroidery. (page 151)
To Dad – so long without his wife – the particular formula of meal, woman, and conversation must have seemed like a favorite hymn remembered. (page 182)
P.S. If you love this book, Leif has written another that I have read, entitled So Brave, Young, and Handsome. A similar yet very different western-style tale of a journey to self-discovery, with similarly delicious writing and a slew of illustrious characters. And, interestingly, Leif’s brother Lin has also written a couple of good reads: The High Divide and Undiscovered Country.