Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Peace Like A River, by Leif Enger

It's not easy to write about an angel and not sound saccharine - at least I assume it's hard, since so few people are successful at it.

Here's an odd thing about this book. I couldn't decide, upon picking it up, whether I had read it, or just had it on my to-read list for a long time. Pretty shortly into the first chapter, I decided that I had in fact read it. And really liked it. But at no point in this rereading did I find myself thinking "Oh, yeah, now I remember what happens." In fact, I didn't remember the ending at all; it was brand new to me. And yet it's a really great book, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. Which means either that I am closer to full-onset senility than I thought, or the book is just a tiny bit miraculous.

The novel tells the story of a year in the life of a family of extraordinary people, told from the perspective of its most ordinary member, 11 year old Reuben. His father is a gentle man inclined to produce miracles, his 9 year old sister writes epic poetry and runs the household, and his 16 year old brother is a level-headed and kind dispenser of vigilante justice.

The book is set in the early 60's and shows an America just on the cusp of modernity. There are still wide open spaces in which a man can hide from the law indefinitely. Technology hasn't yet made many inroads, and rural life is not so different than it was 30 years before. I loved the descriptions of the Western landscape, and the sense that this story hangs right on the edge of a whole new era, not only for the characters, but for the world.

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