Brilliant, evocative, and written in a clear-sighted adolescent’s voice that verges on stream of consciousness and flows magically with the surrealism of this astounding story. Narrator Reuben Land tells this remarkable story of a motherless family’s journey through the winter flatlands of North Dakota, on the trail of his elder brother, Davy, who’s convicted of a crime done in defense of the family.
Reuben’s engaging, first person voice is a metaphor for the malady he was born with: his damaged lungs are commiserate with the breathless tone that lures the reader into siding whole heartedly with the brother he idolizes, while his precocious younger sister, Swede, pens a western based on an outlaw’s hero’s journey, and incrementally interprets the family’s quest to save Davy, who broke out of jail and is on the run.
Father Jeremiah Land has a humble essence that hints at sainthood. An intelligent and pious widower, he works a job beneath his station and is prone to covert, timely gestures that verge on the miraculous, each convenient, pivotal episode manifesting in such a way as to seem like coincidence. “The fact is, the miracles that sometimes flowed from my father’s fingertips had few witnesses but me,” Davy says, and throughout this multi-layered, faith in motion story, there are plenty. When Jeremiah is asked by a concerned friend how the family plans to track Davy, he answers: “I have the substance of things hoped for. I have the anticipation of things unseen.”
On the road to North Dakota, the family is trailed by Martin Andreeson, a federal employee tasked to find the escaped Davy, who suspects the family knows more than they let on. He birddogs the family like a shadow, yet changes from nemesis to friend as the story leads fatefully into the arms of Roxanna, who lives right outside the town where Davy was last seen. When Davy appears to Reuben, he asks Reuben to keep the secret of where he’s living and with whom, for what turns out to be good reason.
Family dynamics tinged with the spiritual and questions of right versus wrong as seen through the eyes of young Reuben are at the heart of this unique story. The writing is so compelling, you’ll be riveted throughout a book you’ll never forget.
5 stars and high praise to author Leif Enger. Peace Like a River has made me Enger’s fan.