Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Peace Like A River Flows Beautifully

I just finished Peace Like A River by Leif Enger and, wow, what a book! Honestly, it's the best novel I've read in quite awhile. I loved it.

The story is told by Reuben Land, an 11-year-old asthmatic, whose life chnges forever when his older brother, Davy, is jailed for murdering two boys who had been threatening the Land Family. Reuben and his colorful little sister Swede miss their brother terribly, as does their father whose worries take a toll on his health. When Davy's trial takes a turn for the worse, Swede decides it's time to break their big brother out of jail; their plan is foiled when both siblings fall asleep waiting for a chance to sneak out of the house. To their surprise and delight, the family discovers that Davy has broken himself out while they slept. Thus begins their journey to the Badlands in hot pursuit of their outlaw brother. With a federal agent tracking their every move, the Lands follow their hearts and their father's uncanny "inspiration" from the Lord to find their beloved brother.

What really sparkles in this story is the characters. Reuben is helplessly flawed; his cowardice weighs him down, but his honesty makes him true and noble. Swede absolutely sparkles as the imaginative, spunky little sister who can weave tales out of thin air and foil the "putrid fed" by sabotaging him with maple syrup. She is an incredible, irresistible character. Jeremiah Land provides an interesting twist to the story. He is a kind, wise father, who talks regularly with the Lord and reads his King James every morning. In fact, Reuben describes him as a literal miracle-worker, equating him with Jesus Christ Himself. As far-fetched as it sounds, you come to believe Reuben's view of his humble, steadfast father. The Lands are believable, likeable and utterly impossible to forget.

If you're looking for a beautiful novel about family, faith and innocence, pick up Peace Like A River - I promise you won't be able to put it down!

Friday, September 01, 2006

1 Remorseful Doctor + 1 Resentful Wife + 1 Rebellious Son = 1 Bleak Novel

Like all good ghost stories, The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, begans on a dark, stormy night. In this case, it is also a snowy night, a night when Norah Henry's ob/gyn is stranded by the weather, and her husband is forced to deliver their baby in his own clinic. While Norah sleeps under anesthesia, David discovers that his wife is pregnant with not one, but two babies. The first is a healthy boy, the next a girl obviously afflicted with Down's Syndrome. Shocked, David hands his daughter to a nurse, instructing her to give the child to a local home for the mentally retarded - a standard practice in 1964, but one that will haunt David for the rest of his life. He elects to tell Norah that their daughter died. What David doesn't realize is that the nurse, Caroline Gill, can't bear to leave the newborn baby at an institution. Instead, she takes the baby to Pittsburgh, where the two begin a new life.

Back in Kentucky, the Henrys are haunted by the ghost of their daughter. Despite her happiness with her baby boy, Norah can't get past the immense feeling of loss that seems to accompany her every waking moment. David's relunctance to talk abut the death creates a gulf between he and Norah, a fissure that widens with every passing day. As their son, Paul, grows up, he can feel the tension between them, and mistakenly construes it as his fault.

When a tragedy strikes, the past comes flying into the present, and the Henrys must face the mistake David made so many years ago.

This book is beautifully written, although in a very stark and haunting way. Even Caroline's story, which is supposed to provide a bright counterpoint to the Henrys sad story, is described in a sad, bleak way. The plot is very engrossing and fast-paced, but undeniably sad. Although the book is eventually about redemption, it is ultimately sad and depressing. I thought the book was interesting and very well-written - I just couldn't get over its incredibly bleak tone.
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