Saturday, September 27, 2014

Peace Like a River

I noticed on Facebook that a few people had posted a list of the top ten most influential books they had read.  A few of these listed the book Peace like a River by Leif Enger.  And those who identified this book are people with whom I share similar sensibilities.

I'd never heard of it.  I saw it was published in 2001, a time when I was not--as I recall it--living under a rock.  I bought the book from Amazon and when the paperback arrived I noticed that the first pages were filled with beautiful words of support and praise for the novel.

The story is told from the perspective of a boy in North Dakota who has a sweet precocious sister a few years older, and a several years older brother.  Their dad is a single parent who had a revelation while studying to be a doctor. The revelation was such that he quit studying to be a doctor and became a janitor. At that point his wife fled to Minneapolis.  All this is background.  Then something happens which causes the older brother to escape and the rest of the remaining family to try and find him.

Much of this book refers to the power of a superior being and the value of praying to that superior being.  The father prays a good deal after his epiphany which had him leave the world of medicine. Very early in the book we read of another event that seems miraculous and a result of some super being's hand.

The story is engaging in parts.  Reuben is the boy narrator and he can turn a phrase. His sister Swede is nothing short of delicious and the Dad, a wonderful man, and endearing.  This said the book did not do it for me in the same way it did it for others.

I imagine the story is meant to be fantastic (in the sense of a fantasy) and not literal.  Still too many parts of the plot don't fit and one character's whereabouts at the end ought to be a matter of concern and does not seem to be.  Swede, Reuben, and Davy (the older brother) do not appear to be as bruised by their mother's fleeing as you would think they would be (though there is a reference to such bruising).  The mother, despite some serious ongoings with her children, does not factor into the events.   The story is set in 1962 and there appears to be a lot of wild west in it, even for North Dakota. Lots of folks on horseback and very remote towns. The remote towns would make sense in this part of the country, but not sure the absence of modernity.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was 1962.  John Glenn had already orbited the earth.

And then there is the suggestion throughout that a super being had a hand in the events, not so much predestination, but a responsiveness to prayer. I think this is dangerous stuff. I think we pray, if we do, to help ourselves feel whole and conduct ourselves respectful of the others in our universe--with sensitivity and love.  I don't think we pray to get us out of a jam or even help us see the light to a right decision.  By feeling and being centered and sound, which may come from prayer--if one is a prayer--that might help one make decisions.  But suggesting that there is merit in asking the Lord for directions is dangerous stuff. We have to make our own choices when we come to the fork.

I had the book on my desk at work while I was reading it. Two colleagues noticed it during that time and told me what a great book it was.  I liked Peace Like a River, but can't recommend it as effusively.  I had no problem putting it down.  I am glad I read it to get to know Swede, the sister, and to read about rural North Dakota (even if it seemed more like 1862 than 1962).  But the book would not be any where near my top ten list.

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