Book Review: Peace Like a River

December 8, 2012 at 11:22 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

We like to read together as a family and just recently finished Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.  It is a hard book to describe.  Full of wonderful prose, it is a touching story in the beginning, but a hard hitting one in the end.  I brought it home from the library because I’d seen it on a list of great family books to read together and don’t even remember who published the list.  The same list had Wind in the Willows on it, which I reviewed last year.  However, this novel is much deeper and more mature in content and theme.

Peace Like a River is a novel supposedly narrated by Rueben Land, who was eleven years old in 1962 when the story takes place.  His sixteen-year-old brother, Davy gets into trouble, and the rest of the book follows the family through Davy’s trial and his fugitive run from the law.  First, it is a story about character; and character drives the story more than plot.  The reader gets to know each of the family members through Enger’s vivid descriptions; Jeremiah is a dedicated father and man of conviction; Swede, Rueben’s nine-year-old sister is a delightful loquacious writer of epic poetry, and the ongoing story of her poems parallels the family story.  Second, it is a story about family.  The Lands have a closeness and commitment to each other that is rare but much needed in today’s world.  And finally, it is a story about faith.  Rueben describes his father as a man of faith and claims he performs miracles.  There is almost a magic about the book and the roughly half dozen miracles described in it.

As we read, we laughed often and cried occasionally.  We reread a few passages just for the joy of reading the words again.  Speaking of loquacious, Enger fits that description more than his fictional young poet Swede.  “You read it as much for the pure joy it offers on every page as to find out how it ends,” said Tom Walker in the Denver Post.  Yet Peace Like a River is more than just fun.

Though many parts of the book are predictable, the ending is not at all what any of us expected, and, as far as story goes, was disappointing.  But it was hard hitting, and the more it rattles around in my brain, the more I realize the ending was a powerful picture of family love and sacrifice, and of faith and miracles, even a picture of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.  It is a book that will make you think.  John Piper’s review of the book said, “What do I make of it?  Wrong question.  What is it making of me?”

There isn’t room in a short review like this to quote Enger’s descriptive language, colorful sentences or delightful humor, but one quote stood out from all the others.  I close with this not because it is humorous or delightful, but because it is such a great description of repentance.  When Rueben realizes how wrong he’d been about his deception he tells us why genuine repentance is hard.

I began to weep  . . .  weeping seems to accompany repentance most times.  No wonder.  Could you reach deep in yourself to locate that organ containing delusions about your general size in the world – could you lay hold of this and dredge it from your chest and look it over in the daylight – well, it’s no wonder people would rather not.  Tears seem a small enough thing. (p. 286)

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