“Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger


I moderate a group that reads books on spirituality and myth, and Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River has been on the to-read list from the beginning, as it’s by a Minnesota author and parts of it are set in northern Minnesota.

It’s narrated by Reuben, in an adult voice telling the story from the perspective of himself as a child. This can be a tough point of view to pull off. I thought it worked most of the time, but there were a few times early on when I got bounced out of the story. Interestingly, it wasn’t the age of the voice felt wrong, but that Reuben kept making Foreboding Prounouncements, when I would have much preferred to just get on with the story.

what [Dad] said to Swede and me on the worst night of all our lives:

We and the world, my children will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible.
Arm yourselves. (4)


I felt straight off that a piece of our lives had changed, as certainly as our cheerful green door had gone to black (21)


I wonder yet what might’ve happened had Dad and I stayed home that night or had Davy and Swede gone with us to church. Wars escalate in mysterious ways, unforeseen by good men and prophets…

So thoughtlessly we sling on our destinies. (28)

When the FPs tapered off I did get on with the story, and it pulled me through to the end.

At the beginning of the story, Reuben’s brother Davy does something that the law doesn’t agree with. Davy runs away, and soon asthmatic Reuben, his miraculous dad, and his Western-writing younger sister Swede head west after him. Intertwining with their trip is a “putrid fed,” Andreeson, who says it’s his job to find Davy. Everything intersects in the Badlands of North Dakota, where what transpires reflects the singularity of the landscape.

This is a novel that has a lot of sweetness, that at times overbalances its complex bitter parts, which I thought were well done. But it has some gorgeous writing, a ripping plot, great settings, and some thought-provoking questions on whether miracles exist and what they are.

The book wears it’s ties to the Western genre clearly. But the family’s road trip, and Davy’s outlaw status reminded me strongly of The Grapes of Wrath, while a scene near the end reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I found these an interesting mix of influences.

One Response to ““Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger”

  1. Beckie B. Says:

    I gave out Peace Like a River for World Book Night. The books went to the women at a local rehab center where I, along with a friend, meet every Monday afternoon to read and discuss books, watch movies, hang out, etc. We just finished the novel last month (it takes us a while to read it as we read aloud a few chapters each week.) Overall, we really liked the book and it was a great discussion starter. It is a great book for discussion groups. Enjoyed reading your thoughts.