Wednesday, August 29, 2012

So What's With "Peace Like A River," Gail?

So, way back on Sunday, I told you about how I stumbled upon Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. You remember--my World Book Night experience.

Okay. Well, liked the book, love how I came to read it, really admire and enjoyed the ending.

Peace Like A River is about Reuben Land's recollections of his twelve-year-old self. He is the son of a devout Christian who is able to perform miracles and the brother of a seventeen-year-old boy who kills two teenagers who have broken into the Land's house intent on physically harming family members. They've already terrorized Reuben's younger sister. Not wanting to give anything away, I will merely say that older brother Davy ends up on the run and Reuben and his sister Swede and father Jeremiah undertake a journey to find him.

It sounds like a downer story, but Reuben has a disparaging wit, Swede has a way with a narrative, and  Jeremiah is a saint, in the good sense of the word, not the grim, oppressive one. I will admit there were a few moments when I felt the story was dragging a bit, but that is a minor complaint.

Reading this book was fascinating because as I was doing so, I felt I had a handle on what the story was about. Davy is the big, dramatic character--what with having killed people and being wanted by the law and all--but the story was about Reuben. It was, I felt, the story of what it's like to be part of that kind of horror show. It was the story of a family member who has to deal with another family's member's crime. Davy's action is the disturbance to Reuben's world that initiates the plot's action. It comes around page 50, which might be a little long to wait, but that's still pretty early on.

Then I got to the end of the book and realized I had been totally wrong. This book was not about Reuben's reaction to Davy's action. This book was about Reuben and his father, the miracle worker. The disturbance to Reuben's world comes in the first two pages when he is born dead, and his father performs his first miracle, giving Reuben life. All the stuff about Davy killing the intruders and the search for him--that's just Reuben's family situation. It could have been some other situation, so long as Reuben and Jeremiah were there.

The book was a good read, so the fact that I didn't realize what it was actually about until the end wasn't a problem for me. If it's true that all books are mysteries, the ending of this one, for me, was the solution to a mystery.

Now, what to do with this copy of a World Book Night book? I will have to think of something special.

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