Peace Like A River

It's too old and perhaps too cliche a phrase to use, but I'm going to use it anyway: "The truth is often stranger than fiction." 

The truth about my life circumstances are as such: I'm a Hoosier who grew up wanting to be a Michigander, then after college moved as far east as I could, to Maine, then, after five years, left Maine and went back to Indiana, only to then move all the way south, to Louisiana. It's like I can't sit still. I don't make decisions that make much sense on the outside. It must be 95 degrees today here in Louisiana. (Why would I ever live in such a dang-hot place?) And I'm working in a job (at a bakery/restaurant) where I get paid much less than my educational background would seem to have enabled me to make. But, I also made that grand decision to go and be an English major. "The degree you can do anything with," someone once told me, "because it doesn't have any sort of life plan at the end." 

Too bad I'm such a bad planner. . . 

But. Anyway. The truth is, I think I actually like it here. In Shreveport, Louisiana. Last night I went to this restaurant called Marilynne's Place, the whole building just a refurbished gas station with all the signs removed and the insides cleaned out and filled with picnic tables. They serve Shrimp Creole, gumbo, beignets and bananas foster. And good beer (made in the same town). Across the street were gorgeously-blooming Crepe Myrtles with magenta blooms, gaudy and thick. In another district of town, there's an art gallery filled with Remingtons and Rodins, and in yet another district, sprawling live oaks line a street of historic old homes, their columned porches and shady lawns very inviting, and as if from another era. It may be hot, but at least it's fun! 

A friend told me I'm in the exciting stage. Getting to know the new place. 

So, I have a new home, and I'm enjoying starting to feel comfortable in it. This morning, however, I stayed in from the heat and spent a couple hours finishing my book from last week, Peace Like A River, by Leif Enger. 

There's a part of me that doesn't want to label it "fiction," because it's such a beautiful story about honest, good-hearted characters, that I want it to be true. And indeed, some of the things that happen in it are so so strange, that maybe they actually could be true. You know? If the truth is stranger than fiction. . . 

Anyway, the book is written from the point of view of a 9-year-old boy, Reuben Land, whose mother left her family years before, and whose older brother, Davy, his younger sister, Swede, and his father, Jeremiah Land, stick close to him like glue. Reuben is at the center of a family so tightly knit that I quickly came to love them. And they love each other! So much so that it seems each of them would do anything in order to keep the others safe and close. 

Jeremiah Land, a humble, God-fearing man, is the school janitor (after a revelation from God earlier in his life led him to quitting medical school and becoming a plumber--a decision which would cost him his wife). His children, Reuben, 9, and Swede, 7 (?), are devoted to him. Reuben's devotion is a mixture of adoration and fear, due to the story he's been told of his own birth, when his father, upon hearing that Reuben was born without the ability to breathe, took his Reuben into his hands and said to him, "Breathe, son." And Reuben did. The directive, and the action, was Jeremiah Land's first miracle. There are many more.

The story begins in Roofing, Minnesota, on the Land's property, moves to the Badlands of North Dakota, and ends where it started, in Roofing. Throughout the book are gorgeous descriptions of landscape and the harsh conditions of Dakota winters. For all the descriptions of cold, however, they're balanced by the warmth of the family members, other characters, and the story itself. 

Peace Like A River is a tale of miracles and of familial, Godly, and fatherly love, and of faith. It's a book you won't forget. READ IT.

next week's book: Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio