We and the world, my children, will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible. Arm yourselves.
This is the story told by eleven-year-old Reuben Land, a boy who lives in Minnesota circa 1961 with his father, his older brother Davy, and his improbably precocious nine-year-old sister Swede. His father, Jeremiah Land, is the janitor of their small-town school and a man of great faith. Faith so great, in fact, that sometimes miracles spring from his fingertips.
One fateful night, Davy kills a pair of troublemakers who had made vicious threats against the Land family. When, soon after his trial, Davy escapes from jail and sets out toward the badlands as a fugitive, the family decides to pack up and follow him into North Dakota—praying that they will find him before the law does.
Peace Like a River is a twentieth-century American odyssey of faith, love, and family, mixing old western adventure with Christian spirituality. The narrative voice is rich and compelling, sweeping you in from the beginning and pulling you headlong into the story. The book is not particularly action-packed, but the prose is so thoroughly engaging that even the most mundane events unfold effortlessly.
And yet the spectacular events are described matter-of-factly, merely observations of facts instead of hard judgments. At one point Reuben and Jeremiah attend a service put on by a visiting preacher. He fires up the congregation until they begin to shake and collapse. Reuben is a bit alarmed, but when his father falls to the ground, "slain by the spirit," he touches him and feels a thrill, something he observes as spiritual and real—and yet that's the extent of his comment on it. He observes, considers, and moves on.
The miracles that occur to and around his father are recorded in the same way. A pot of soup stretches farther than it has a right to, and only Reuben notices. A split in a leather saddle is healed when his father, deep in prayer, picks it up, and only Reuben notices.The kinds of miracles that Lief Enger portrays are the kind that a man may not even notice if he's not paying attention, but with which God blesses him anyway.
As our narrator, Reuben is merely an eyewitness, recording the facts of what he sees. Not that he isn't changed by what he sees, just that he isn't aiming to change your mind, only to tell a story. He doesn't give us a formula, but a picture.It's a picture involving struggle and heartache and pain, hope and love and miracles.This, says Lief Enger, is what a life lived in faith might look like. Make of it what you will.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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