Recollections of the Meeting of the Bryn Mawr Book Group on Tuesday August 5, 2014
For Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger
Present: Roo Dane, host, Anne Ipsen, Dorianne Low, Sydney Owens, and Cornelia Robart
Anne Ipsen proud showed us her new book, Abigail’s Legacy, from Ibus Press. The cover alone, a beautiful riverscape, promises a lyrical entry into the Concord stories Anne has published previously.
“That guy can write!” Sydney brought us back to the magical world of fiction. The father of a northern Midwestern family is lifted into a tornado and sees God. The exasperated mother walks out on him and their children. The eldest, Davy, is an accomplished young huntsman. Swede (we never learn why she is called that) writes poetry in the rollicking style of Robert W. Service about a heroic outlaw who never gets caught. Reuben, our eyes in this story, is mystically brought back to life at his birth by his father, but suffers badly from asthma. This and his youth confine him to be the onlooker for much of the story. He is the only witness or recipient of the father’s miracles (such as walking off a platform onto thin air while talking with God). They live together simply and companionably, not seeming much to miss the mother.
The story really takes off when Swede is aggressed by two older boys at school. Frightened, she tells Davy, who promptly beats up the boys. They, renowned bullies whom even the sheriff is unwilling to correct, reciprocate. Eventually the bullies enter the house and Davy shoots them dead. His plea of self-defense reaches no judicial ears, and he escapes from jail and hides at home. It is discovered that he had in fact lured them into a deadly trap. “They deserved what they got,” he states unrepentantly.
The family want to help him, find him, and make the law respect him. An obnoxious salesman whom the father had tolerated and fed many a time left his RV to the family when he died. Davy uses it to escape the family homestead. He becomes the outlaw of Swede’s poems, meeting impassioned eccentrics, riding across the “badlands of snow.” The family leaves their home to find him.
They eventually arrive at the home of a strong and strong-willed woman who takes them in when they can plow through the snow no further. She is a marvelous character – as are they all, richly textured and believable, even when most unlikeable. But we really liked Reuben, the protagonist, and shared his agony in the throes of asthma attacks, described in scary detail and authenticated by sufferers in our group.
In this story the bad guys are not all bad, and the good guys may not be all good. Discussion of the gun culture in hunting country and elsewhere, of women’s rights and anecdotes about the real Women’s Room at Harvard…
Some of us fretted at the disjunct of the title and the action, but were led to admit that the end did seem given over to acceptance of how life turned out.
Next reading: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Tuesday, September 23 at 6:30, Roo’s place. Hint – it’s not about art so much as furniture, and a lot besides…
 And what about that title? How undescriptive of the violent action of parts of the book! It comes from an old hymn written by Horatio Spafford, a successful Chicago businessman who lost his son to disease, his property to fire, and then all his remaining children to shipwreck. Only the wife survived. He wrote this poem in 1876, en route to join her in England. It recalls the intense Christian beliefs prevalent then, that acceptance of Christ is the answer to every pain,
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
August 25 2014 | Book group | Comments Off