I just finished this book about 10 seconds ago, and immediately opened a Word document to begin reviewing it and trying to bring maximum readership its way.
As I write, I still have shivers running up and down my spine and am holding back tears. If I weren’t sitting in the office right now, I would have burst into tears (tears of the best kind) long ago. There’s nothing like a quiet office environment to discourage the loud wailing.
One of my co-workers recommended this book to me last fall, as we were chatting it up at a trade show. Trade shows can be very long . . . with a lot of standing around on your best behavior. Early on we discovered a mutual affinity for reading, and let me say, he has incredible taste. On a sidenote, he was also responsible for getting me started on Gail Tsukiyama, whose books I need to review asap. At one point, he said “You need to read ‘Peace Like a River’ by Leif Enger.” I smiled politely. It sounded like a devotional book, or maybe something about a kid and a dog who explore the woods together or go fishing or something, and then the dog saves his life from some kind of freak barn fire accident. So I didn’t read it until I saw him again this summer and he asked (paraphrase) “So have you read ‘Peace Like a River’ yet? Because it’s one of my favorite books of all time.” Guiltily, I said I would immediately request it at the library. I picked it up about 2 weeks later and finally opened it this week.
Let me tell you, this book has catapulted to the top of my “favorite books of all time” list from the moment I hit about the 5th chapter. The story is written in the first person, by an older man recalling a particular time in his childhood. Set in the ‘60s against the backdrop of the American West, the story follows a family through loss, love, and adventure. It’s a riveting story with an FBI chase, an unexpected love story, and a bandit style hideout. As they head out West in an Airstream trailer, the kid’s Dad explains why he’s going in these words: “I have the substance of things hoped for. I have the anticipation of things unseen.” I love that quote. Love it, love it, love it. His style feels like a combination of Willa Cather in “My Antonia” and Wendell Berry, both of whom I absolutely adore and will soon be reviewing: it’s simple, pure, and beautiful in both language and substance. Leif Enger displays a great understanding of human nature, and a great compassion for it as well. There is a depth of wisdom in his words that over and over again made the gooseflesh just creep down my arms. He gets to the very heart of things, to the hidden essence that we don’t see because it’s right in front of us. In his story, the miraculous and the ordinary walk together, and the Big and Little pictures come into the same frame.
The ending takes the tragic and makes it achingly beautiful, and is very similar to the conclusion of “The Last Battle,” the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia. The character of the father will challenge you to see beyond what’s visible by looking at reality with the eyes of your heart. This is not just a poetic, well-written masterpiece, but a book that encourages the very soul.
I would bribe you to read this, but I’ve already blown our grocery budget on Thai delivery, so it’s a no-go. So please pretend you received the bribe and request it at your library immediately.
Thanks to my library, I already have his second novel in hand and will be starting it tonight.
*Update: second book, not so good . . . but Peace Like a River is so good that not only did my non-fiction-reading husband love it, but he wants us to purchase the book and can’t wait to read it again. Do you realize how much this says about this book? It’s huge, folks, it’s huge.