Reuben Land is the 11 year old narrator of Peace Like a River. He’s the middle child of single father Jeremiah and brother to Davy, age 17, and Swede, his precocious 9 year old sister. There is just one mention of the children’s mother, who left them some years ago.
It’s the early 1960s; the Lands live in a small town in Minnesota where Jeremiah is the high school janitor. He is a humble man devoted to his children and his God. And he occasionally performs miracles.
Reuben’s adolescent voice is consistent throughout, and it’s like listening to a conversation rather than reading a narration. He is reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird – in fact, the story often reminded me of that most excellent book, with Jeremiah a bit like Atticus, the loving and fair-minded father, and Swede and Reuben like Scout and Jem, the precocious, adventurous and motherless children who observe the adults and tell the story while getting mixed up in the drama that unfolds.
There are some lovely humorous moments in the story, usually involving Swede. When she and Reuben agree to break their brother out of jail, Swede steals four steak knives:
Gravely she offered me the box. I chose two and with grim aspect slid them in my belt. Swede crossed her arms. She might’ve sailed with Francis Drake. She said, “We are of a noble tradition, Reuben.” I buttoned up a flannel shirt and drew blood from three knuckles tucking it in. (page 92)
This is a story of love and loyalty, of faith and miracles. Enger’s writing is beautiful and his storytelling superb. Here there is lovely prose, poetry (Swede is writing an epic poem), mystery, adventure and not a few surprises. Not to mention a sweet romance.
Highly recommend. (4.5/5)