2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Faith and Justice,
This review is from: Peace Like a River (Paperback)
I think when you read Peace Like a River, you have to do so with a certain grain of salt. There are many things that don't add up, a few head scratching moments, but ultimately the journey is one of faith for the Land family, especially young Reuben, who has more than one experience with faith. There are some irritations along the way. (I, like many, found Swede's character to be a bit perplexing and far-fetched. After all, there aren't many nine years old that can spout out poetry right and left, reference specific historical moments, and cook an entire turkey dinner by themselves). However, all in all it was a worthy novel, and merits some praise. There is a certain amount of symbolism revealed throughout in the family's journey west, and the spirituality of the book creates a "feel good" effect, even if some deem it "sugary sweet."
Obviously miracles and faith play a huge role in the novel, and carry the story from beginning to end. Reuben's entrance in the world involves a miracle in which his father intervenes and helps him breathe and survive. Narrating this event at the book's outset, Reuben reflects on the spiritual significance: "I believe I was preserved through those twelve airless minutes, in order to be a witness, and as a witness, let me say that a miracle is no cute thing but the swing of a sword." Reuben, years later, knows that this event was part of a larger picture that he attributes to fate, and no small feat. The first of several miracles from Jeremiah Land gives credence to the presence of hope in the novel, and perhaps this first one helps to give Reuben a grander idea of life, a deeper appreciation for all the little things that make up family and perseverance, especially as the family heads out in search of Davey.
An appreciation I had while reading was just the amount of passion Lief Enger puts in his novel. While some may criticize his rather verbose and detailed passages (and with good reason), he certainly puts forth much energy in establishing who these characters are: their faults, their strengths, what makes them tick. We know, for instance, that Jeremiah is a very spiritual man, self-sacrificing family man who first relies on faith. Reuben's views of the world are constantly changing and resurfacing, and he clearly shows his philosophical side in his narration; we understand why he has many conflicts over brother Davey, such as whether it is moral or not to help someone who's on the run. Part of Reuben's conscience is to "do the right thing", and he continually questions himself about the morality of life.
Another intriguing aspect of the novel is the theme of justice. When Reuben's older brother Davy kills the two young troublemakers who break into their home, many must decide whether Davy acted in self-defense or whether he is a cold-blooded murderer. Acting as a vigilante, Davy is charged with murder, but finds a way to escape prison. Because the family is having a difficult time living in town after the trial, they decide to head out west to try to see if they can't find Davy and escape the circus that is building around them. This gives Reuben time to cope and try to figure out if what Davy did was justified. (However, I personally felt Davy was as unsympathetic character as there could be in the book).
The ending, which involves another miracle, is one which has garnered some praise and criticism. I think if you take in some of the events with a certain amount of symbolism in mind, the novel will make much more sense in the grand scheme of things. I felt like I could believe the ending, because we learn early on that miracles are important to the story. Over all, there are a few blotches, like the lack of editing at certain points, but this is a novel which is certainly deserving of the praise its received.