Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
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Jan 22, 08

bookshelves: finished, owned-and-gave-away
Read in January, 2004

Leif Enger, Peace Like a River (Grove, 2001)

Oh, what has happened to Grove Press? The folks that made their name publishing scandalous novels by James Joyce, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, and the like publishing what may be the least controversial novel of the last ten years? It hurts my heart, folks, it really does. Please, Grove, stick to what you know.

It wouldn't be so bad if there were more about this piece of smarmy claptrap to like. I haven't decided whether this is a good thing or a bad thing yet (I'm grudgingly leaning towards the former). Enger's writing style allows for long lapses in anything actually happening. Just when I'm ready to throw the book against the wall, however, he perks right back up again and things start going well for a few pages, then it's back into the depths of... well, the void. That's about the only way I can put it.

Reuben Land is an asthmatic eleven-year-old (or, at least, he is in the novel; one of the more amusing things I'm finding about most reviews is that they seem to have skipped over the fact that he WAS an asthmatic eleven-year-old at the time of the novel, but he's telling the story as an adult, which makes the comparisons to To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, etc. specious at best) with a father who can perform miracles, a sister who's a writing prodigy, and a brother who's your basic teenager in the small-town American Midwest in 1962. After Reuben's father stops two town thugs from raping a girl, they seek revenge on the family. The teenager's reaction to this is what sets up the rest of the novel; it's probably not a spoiler any more, but I won't say anything just in case.

The plotline with Davy (the teenager) is by far the most interesting thing about the novel. When Enger is writing this, his prose rises off the page and compels the reader to keep going. Unfortunately, it's a minor point in the general scheme of things; Enger seems far more interested in writing an episode of Seventh Heaven where the family's father is actually Jesus. Except Seventh Heaven, for all its many many faults, has more wit, more compassion, and less preaching than does Peace Like a River.

I was willing to give this mess two stars, mostly because Enger can write well when he tries, and a couple of his characters are perfectly drawn, but then I got to the ending. Of all the endings I would have projected for this novel, Enger took the most predictable, most syrupy-sweet, most clichéd ending he possibly could, then tried to pass it off and something epic and grandiose. Even if the rest of the book had been perfect, the ending is such a miserable failure that I'd recommend skipping the whole novel, unless you seek out smarminess and predictability.

The purpose of a great novel is to challenge the reader, make the reader think, open the reader's eyes and make the reader look at things from a new perspective. All in all, I can't say I've come across another book this year that fails so miserably in all those capacities as does Peace Like a River. * ½
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Gregory Completely agree. Thank you.


Allie Completely disagree.


Jamie I'm in the middle of the book and totally feel the same way. Smarmyness. Perfect description.


message 4: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam Completely disagree. Why can't some books be read just for enjoyment and I think it did challenge the reader about faith and made the reader think.


message 5: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam And you do seem to be in the minority.


Richard Oh, oh. I'm a big fan of the Grove stable (though I didn't notice they were the publishers) and I was hoping for a good read, based on a suggestion from a friend. I don't expect Joyce, Burroughs, et al, just because its Grove, but I'm hoping this isn't a "Touched by an Angel," sort of read. Anyway, hoping for the best...


message 7: by Debbie (new)

Debbie I totally agree with you. This book is overrated.


message 8: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam Received notice of a comment which opened this back up for me. I am one of the many that gave this book 5 stars so I obviously disagree with those of you
who gave this book a low score but what
I'm most curious about, is how Robert is able to read as many books as he claims to have read unless he is a speed reader; in which case, reading that many books would certainly mean that not much info was gleaned from them and they certainly could not have been read for pleasure. Just very curious as to how Robert would have time to do anything but read and, as much as I love to read, that many would become a chore.


Terry Read this book for book club this month. I am pretty sure I am going to be the only one there tonight that was totally unimpressed with this book. I kept thinking of To Kill a Mockingbird because of the child narration and ,of course, it fails miserably in comparison. I think I was truly confused about the adult perspective narration. I found the children very unbelievable. I really only finished the book because it was our book club selection. I think I would have stopped after the first fifty pages otherwise. I thoroughly agree with you when you said it gets pretty good for a few pages then
There is a chasm of disappointment. I wanted the author to show me more about these characters rather than tell me.
As a Bible believing Christian I had little trouble with the religious themes except the walking on air. I think that is the first place I wanted to close the book and send it off to Goodwill.


message 10: by Matt (new) - rated it 4 stars

Matt Robert, I would argue that he does challenge you: He challenges whether you can accept a story that ends in such a cliche way. From what I read, that is the book's main theme: Can we accept the seemingly unbelievable and yet predictable? Granted, A Prayer For Owen Meany may have done this same thing more subtly and even more masterfully, but I think it may be somewhat unfair to criticize the book too harshly in this regard.


MomToKippy Completely bizarre review. I must be some sort of alien. I found this story to be completely unpredictable, completely different from anything I have ever read and absolutely beautifully written. it almost seems as if this reviewer has some ulterior motive.


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