Mary Beth Writes

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

I saw the announcement and decided to go on the basis of reading Peace Like a River twenty years ago. I loved it though I wasn’t sure why I liked it so much or what he was really trying to do - and 20 years ago I was way busier than i am now. So I figured now would be a fine time to reread Peace so I’d remember it and get a handle on his writing. Finished the novel this morning. I didn’t recall much of the flow of the story. I’m still not precisely sure what he was doing nor do I understand why I love it so much. But I still do.

Let me give it a go.

Enger is a master of dry humor and evocative images. “It may surprise you, after the goats in the bathroom, that Roxanna Cawley set a pleasant and even cultivated table.” “To dad - so long without his wife – the particular formula of meal, woman, and conversation must have seemed like a favorite hymn remembered.”

There is a vision of leaving this life to arrive in one’s next life, “The old morte settled its grip, and the next country gathered itself under my feet.” He runs with no tiredness through an orchard of “Apples, gold-skinned apricots, immaculate pears.” I love that. Immaculate pears. 

This novel ought to be read slowly and savored. Or listened to as an audio book.

The story is about profound and sometimes miraculous love that could turn into power but never does. The dad has three amazing kids. The 16-year-old makes a violent claim on justice which cannot stand against the power of his dad’s love.

I remember Paul Hessert trying to teach us, in the dogmatics class I took in seminary, about resurrection. Hessert said all love leads, sooner or later, to crucifixion. Sometimes as metaphor, sometimes and way too often as the real thing - death. If one is talking about resurrection without talking about the death comes before it one hasn’t yet encountered resurrection. Might as well buy a Hallmark bunny card and be done with it. The world seldom rewards service and love.

See: the nightly news.

The narrator is Rueben who is a brave and flawed 11-year-old with asthma. His sidekick is his younger sister Swede who speaks like no seven-year-old you ever met. She writes a long, complicated, rhyming epic poem about good and bad cowboys and her narrative follows the twists and turns of their life. She is hilarious and perspicacious (she would know what perspicacious means). I don’t believe her but I love her.

Theology is not the big words eggheads use to argue about angels dancing on pinheads. Theology, the good stuff, is where thoughtful people decide how they are going to live once they get past the training wheels of thinking faith is the religious words you say. Theology is how one finds courage and kindness when neither seems to make any sense and could very likely destroy you.

Peace Like a River is not about the beautifully invented vision at the end, but the courage, love, poetry, and decisions that led them there.

 

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Comments

Some sort of synergy out there this morning! I just returned from the library with Enger's new book "I Cheerfully Refuse". Discovered he has written two in between the new one and "Peace". I read "Peace" right around the time it hit the book reviews and always kept a copy in my classroom. I never got the children's father out of my head, the tragedy of his life, yet he loved his kids.... Time to do a reread as well. Will look for Enger to hit a bookstore more southerly:). Have a good day.
Mary Beth's picture

Len is on his way home from the library right now with book #2. I plan to BUY the new one - what an intriguing title - "Cheerfully I refuse." If the line isn't unbelievably long, I'll stand in it to get his signature. And I'm smiling at the synergy that happens here. Yes, indeed.

My library has it. I can borrow it on my kindle! Going on my list.

This book has been on my bookshelf for decades. Not sure who recommended it to me or why I haven't read it. When I opened it just now, it was at the goats in the bathroom chapter. That sign and your review have convinced me I need to get to it soon. Thanks, MB.
Mary Beth's picture

The synergy is strong in this one!

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