Peace Like a River–Some Miracles and More in the Badlands

Peace Like a River

By Leif Enger

Published 2001

Read Aug 2021

Reuben Land is born in 1951 and is expected to die as he can’t seem to take a breath.  Then his father, Jerimiah, commands him to breathe which he finally does.  Miracle #1 witnessed by Reuben.  Fast forward to 1962.  Jerimiah is raising Davy, 16, Reuben, 12, and Swede, 9, alone.  His wife left after it was clear to her that Jerimiah has abandoned his medical education when he suffers an accident while he was in school.  In fact, he is now happy to be a janitor at the local school.  Reuben continues to struggle with his breathing—likely severe asthma.  Swede is a fan of western novels and is extremely adept at writing poetry about a range of circumstances.  We are treated to a number of lines she writes with apparent ease and to her epic poem about a cowboy as she writes it.  She and Reuben are very close.  Jerimiah breaks up an attempted sexual assault at the school which sets up a battle between the assailants and his family.  The bullies kidnap Swede; it’s not clear exactly what they do to her.  However, brother Davy is set on a course to take revenge and ends up killing both young men.  Reuben and Swede plot to break him out of jail but fortunately he escapes himself.  The rest of the novel follows the family’s search for Davy as he heads into the Badlands with an FBI agent on his tail.

This reader generally enjoyed this book.  The descriptions of the land they traverse are especially nice.   The story being set in 1962 enabled some disconnection from current society norms.  Is this a book that this reader would recommend to her book discussion group?  Likely not because while pleasurable it wasn’t a book that prompts this reader to want to talk about the book with others. This reader will consider reading this author again in the future.    

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