I first read Peace Like A River by Leif Enger back in 2010, but when my bookclub picked it for our June book I was happy to reread it. The staff at my local indie bookstore was crazy about it when it first came out, so of course I resisted reading it for quite a while, rarely being one to jump on the “everyone loves it” bandwagon. My original Goodreads review was, quite simply, “OK, everyone was right. This is a great book.”
The story is told by an adult Reuben Land, who was eleven years old during the events described in the book. Rube, his older brother Davy, and his younger sister Swede live in a small rural town in Minnesota with their father Jeremiah. Davy gets into trouble with the law and goes into hiding. The rest of the family eventually go on a road trip vacation with a vague notion of hoping to find him.
I pretty much loved everything about this book. The writing is great, the character development is great, the plot and pacing are great. I even loved all the overt parallels between this book and a great western adventure story. Swede is an aspiring writer and a lover of the old west and throughout the novel she is composing a great epic poem about her hero, Sundown, which reads with the rhyme and cadence of a Robert Service poem. What’s not to love?
Several people enjoyed the unpredictability of the plot, something I couldn’t really comment on since it was my second read. One book club member found it a bit too sentimental. The rest of us didn’t argue with her, we all just like a good sentimental story. Jeremiah Land has a deep faith and relationship with God, a faith which his children all embrace and question to very different degrees. There’s even plenty of miracles in the book, but it never feels preachy or anything more than a fiction story, I like to think of it as Christian Magical Realism.
Peace Like A River was often one of the choices on the high school required summer reading list when I worked at the bookstore. It was often the go-to recommendation for guys when the rest of list skewed decidedly female. You can read it for the adventure, you can read it for family sentimentality, you can read it looking for the power of hope and faith. And if you haven’t read it, you should.