Kate's Reviews > Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
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's review
Aug 10, 09

really liked it
bookshelves: 3-non-fiction
Read in August, 2009

The beauty of this book lies in the language. It's a wonderful treat to read, full of rich wording and imagery. I read this book for a bookgroup and thoroughly enjoyed the topics we discussed from the setting to the language to what is justice. Recommended.

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Reading Progress

07/02/2009 page 22
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Wendy (new)

Wendy I LOVE this book, Kate! I think I read it 5 or 6 years ago. It's probably one of my all time favorites, despite the ending. I agree with you on the beauty of the language as well as the thought-provoking themes.

message 2: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Have you read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett? Although the story is completely different, the tone, language, & some of the ideas reminded me of Peace Like a River.

I would never have thought of comparing Bel Canto and Peace Like a River. They are both powerful books, but I think they are very different from each other. I think we'd have to discuss that more, Wendy, for you to convince me or at least for me to understand better what you mean. Let's do that sometime. :) Hi, Kate! How are you? I'm on Goodreads, too, if you'd like to add me as a friend.

Best wishes, Dawn

p.s. I loved the handmade snowflake you sent in your Christmas card--thanks so much. I actually have a little collection of different snowflakes that I like to hang on our tree, so your gift was perfect.

Kate I haven't heard of Bel Canto. I will have to read it. I am always looking for books to read, which is why I love goodreads - I can browse through friends' book lists and get ideas. :)

I am interested in that you qualified your love for the book despite the ending, Wendy. I felt very similarly. I am still not quite sure what to make of the ending, but it left me a little dissatisfied. I think that can be a good thing, and often discussion helps me find new insight into why an author did what he did with his story, but in this case, even after some discussion in my bookgroup, I'm still not completely satisfied. I'd be interested in your thoughts on the ending.

Dawn! Hi! I will add you right now to goodreads; it's so good to see you here. I'm glad you got your Christmas card and that you liked the snowflake. It was just a fun idea I thought of while I was watching the Summer Olympics. It's kind of a tradition for me that every Summer Olympics I pick a fairly involved project to work on while I watch the Games (I can't watch them without doing something since there's so much commentary and waiting around for the event to start, etc, if you know what I mean). Wendy, I can't remember if I got yours sent or not. I remember trying to track down your address. Did I send you yours? If not, I will send it to you this Christmas. I wasn't able to get a few sent out, and I think yours might have been one of them, so I wrapped them up and hopefully they are still nice enough to send out.

message 5: by Wendy (last edited Aug 27, 2009 11:09PM) (new)

Wendy I'd love a Christmas snowflake, Kate! You probably didn't have our address because we had just moved into our new house last fall. It's 43905 Tahoe Way, Lancaster, CA 93536. Whoever named the street must've been feeling wistful for trees & water & mountains . . . :} We have mountains, but they're the brown desert variety.

Bel Canto is about a group of terrorists in Peru that takes government officials and guests (including a famous opera singer & a prominent Japanese businessman) hostage at a dinner party. It's about music and relationships, love and despair, things we can control and things we can't. The writing is exquisite. Dawn is right that the story is quite different from Peace Like a River, but something about the tone, almost dreamlike at times, feels similar to me. The endings also trouble me in parallel ways (be warned?) Maybe I'm also associating the two simply because the covers of the editions I read were both blue & white & shadowy. In fact, I just realized that they're side by side on my bookcase. :) If you read Bel Canto, I'll be eager to hear your thoughts!

Speaking of conclusions, it's been several years since I read Peace Like a River, so I've undoubtedly forgotten some details, but I'll give it a go. Basically, I like happy endings. Unapologetically. Not that I can't appreciate the power of tragedy, but that was what I liked least about much of the "great" literature I studied in college! Having the crazy guy show up at the end seemed kinda far-fetched, even diabolical, which contrasted sharply with the miracle theme. Maybe it was purposely the other side of the coin--I don't know. I guess it's the age-old question about why bad things happen to good people, but it was just so sad, especially for Roxanna. Jeremiah's sacrifice was meaningful, but why did it have to be an exchange instead of a gift? I'd have preferred a slightly different miracle. (Enger's depiction of the afterlife was neat, though.) Anyway, perhaps I'm missing the point, but as I said, I like happy endings.

message 6: by Dawn (last edited Aug 28, 2009 04:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn I was sad that the dad died (esp for Roxanna's sake), but I thought it fit with the story. For that powerful of a miracle, I think that an exchange was realistic. "Greater love hath no man than this...." I loved the description of heaven, too. Jape was a devilish figure (including the upturned eyebrows!) and Jeremiah was the contrasting Christ-like figure who sacrificed himself to save his son.

I actually didn't like the ending after that part. It seemed weak after such a strong book. Why would the bad guy just disappear when he didn't even get Davy or Sarah? It seemed weird to have Reuben marry Sarah, too. I'm sure you noticed that she was from Utah (you know those polygamous Mormons who treat their women and children so badly!) Now that I live in Iowa I can picture this book even better. I'd really like to visit the Badlands and see the lava cracks!

When Leif Enger did a reading here, I asked him if he considered himself a person of faith. He was quick to disclaim that he was "just a garden variety Christian." It seems strange to me that he could write such a powerful book solely on the strength of imagination and "what if" miracles were real. I'd think there had to be more deep in his soul. I sure was disappointed by his second book, though. Its protagonist is a struggling author--hopefully not part of Enger's own experience, but maybe.

The last page of Bel Canto was what bothered me, too. Not the main ending which I think was inevitable and very powerful, but the afterward! It seemed contrived and unnecessary. Yes, Bel Canto had a very dreamlike tone, but it also seemed so real. The reader is sucked in to the dream so that we, like the characters, almost forget everything else.

Okay, Kate, I think you need to read Bel Canto so we can really discuss it! :)

Kate Thank you for your address, Wendy!

Bel Canto sounds intriguing. I am going to see if my library has it. I'll let you both know how I like it when I've had a chance to read it. Thanks for the warning about the ending. It only makes me more curious to read the book and see what I think about it. :)

I, too, like happy endings. I think I knew that the ending in Peace Like a River would not ending 'happy' in the traditional sense because of it's mood and also because of the title itself. The title brought to mind a journey to finding peace. When the characters in the book when on their journey to find Davy, it meshed with my initial impression of the book. Throughout the book (and agreeing with Dawn), Jeremiah is depicted as a Christlike character - he performs miracles - healing, in particular - and he turns the other cheek to cruelty (like from the superintendent). So, when he died and through that performed his final miracle of giving Reuben life once again (and before Reuben was even pierced with a bullet, before Davy even came home for the last time, we saw that Reuben was slowly dying), it fit perfectly with the Christ symbolism.

I was saddened that just when Jeremiah found Roxanna, he died. I can see how it all works out, though, in that Jeremiah was going to die for his children, but he needed someone there to live for them, to help them. And Roxanna provided that need. It just made me sad that they couldn't enjoy more time with each other.

What bothered me most about the ending was Davy. In fact, Davy kind of bothered me throughout the entire book. :D He is so mysterious, and we never really get to know him. I know that's probably what the author intended. And, I'm okay with that for the most part. But, what really got to me was that Davy took off. Just as his father and his brother were being shot at, he fled away in the car. Because I don't know Davy and because I never got to know him in the preceding 200 pages of the novel, I am left only to guess at what his motive was. Was he leaving in hopes that he would lead Jape after him and away from his family? Was he leaving because he was a coward? Was he leaving because once again he did not want to face the consequences of his actions? I don't know him well enough to be satisfied with what motive he had. And, I need a motive. I want to know why he turned his back on his family, because that's what it appeared to me that he did. I want to know that he really hoped to lead the danger after him and away from his family. I just don't know him well enough to know, though, and that is what bothers me. Reuben visits him in later years, and I still don't understand or know Davy. I like how Reuben says that Davy never appears when Swede is with him and that he thinks it might be because Davy is too ashamed to show himself to her. That's what I think, too.

Lastly, I also felt the ending was weak after Jeremiah's death. It seemed too conveniently wrapped up to have Reuben marry Sarah. Also didn't like how rushed the mourning for Jeremiah was. He died. That was that. That's what it felt like, and for such a central figure in his children's lives, I felt he deserved a little more than what he was given.

Overall, though, I felt the book was beautiful. I loved the symbolism, the language, the journey the family took.

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