Peace Like a River
by Leif Enger
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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Rueben Land was not breathing when he entered this world.  Dr. Nokes tried everything in his power to make the child to inhale. Ten minutes later, Reuben's father, Jeremiah Land willed his new son to breathe in the name of God, and his lungs began to fill.

Eleven year-old Reuben hears that story often within the Lands' small home in Roofing, Minnesota.

Jeremiah Land is a simple man who turns to the Lord for guidance in raising his children which include 16 year-old Davy and 8 year-old Swede. Their life is a sweet reflection of life in 1960's Minnesota.

One winter evening, two school bullies with a baseball bat break into the Lands' home. Davy shoots them, causing great scandal in the town. The sixteen year-old is imprisoned for his actions.

With a trial pending, Davy escapes jail and heads into the North Dakota landscape. Certain circumstances lead the Lands to lock up their house and head west as well. Reuben and Swede keep their spirits high by weaving legendary cowboy tales and hoping to meet their brother again.

Peace Like a River details the Lands' physical and spiritual journey as they struggle with finding Davy and doing the right thing.

Leif Enger's first novel is filled with vivid imagery, miracles and faith. The majority of the story in the stinging cold of the North Dakota badlands. The author's words are effective, adding to the chilling tale.

Enger's descriptions are as clear as a crisp morning, but his tale is a bit cloudy. The incidents are there, but the leading circumstances are never truly defined.

The beginning of Peace Like a River speaks of war. The two bullies direct all their anger toward the Lands, but the reasons for their heinous actions just aren't convincing.

The talk of war fades as the story moves forward. Swede writes wonderful poetry of western legends. Reuben dreams of seeing his brother again. Jeremiah, who seemed strong earlier, falls into depression. It's clear there is no mother in the house, but Enger only offers a single unconvincing sentence as to the reason of the absence.

This novel, though beautifully written, is choppy. Each dramatic and poetic scene occurs with little if any solid foundation. Why were the bullies so hateful? Why didn't the rest of the town think they were? Why are wars and battles discussed early in the story, yet fizzle out later and cease to be a driving theme? How did Jeremiah Land go from strong spiritual father, to defeated man, to upstanding child of God who is willing to turn Davy into the authorities? There are several other questions to ask that involve other characters and their actions.

As stated, Peace Like a River is a wonderful depiction of life in 1960's Minnesota. Enger's descriptions held my attention, though I could not connect the separate images to form a flowing story.

In other reviews, Reuben Land has been compared to Huck Finn and Scout Finch, thus implying this book is destined to be a classic. Perhaps, the predictions are true. Like most other classics I read in high school, Peace Like a River left me filled with questions and void of a solid completion. The novel is a series of incredible scenes held loosely together with poetry. The connection is not a solid one, which leads to my indifferent opinion. Leif Enger is a talented writer, but his first novel just doesn't work for me.

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Reviewer's Note:
Moments after I posted this review, I learned that Amazon.com picked this book as "The Best of 2001." Can't win 'em all, I guess, but I stand by my opinion. I encourage you to read the book and form your own.
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