Reviewed by Kim Harris Thacker, Writer, Mommy, and Bookshop Talk Host
When I was a little girl, I went with a group of my friends to the home of an elderly woman who lived across the field from me. She told us stories of her own childhood, and how her family had befriended the infamous outlaw, Butch Cassidy--or Robert LeRoy Parker, whom she described as well-mannered and very kind to her and her family. Before we left her home, she brought out a sheet of paper and showed us that it was sheet music, whereon a song called "Wild Desert Rose" had been written. Then she sang it to us. This song was written by Cassidy, who had composed it as a favor for a friend who used it to woo a girl.
Needless to say, I, like my elderly neighbor, have always had a soft place for Butch Cassidy--a soft place for all outlaws, really. Give me stories of gunslingers and train robbers with good hearts! Give me Robin Hood!
Because I love outlaw stories so much, I'm currently writing a Western-styled novel (with a fantasy twist, because outlaws are nothing if not superheroes). I've done lots of research on outlaws, and unfortunately, a suspicion I've held since I was a kid has been confirmed: Not all outlaws were good guys, or even conflicted. Some of them were just thieves and murderers. Still, I love outlaw stories.
PEACE LIKE A RIVER is a truly wonderful outlaw story with terrific characters. It takes place in the mid-20th century, so don't go into this thinking it's an "Old West" outlaw story. It certainly has elements of that, both in the writing style and in the nostalgia the characters exhibit toward the Old West.
The point-of-view character, Ruben, is so likable. He's so honest to the reader. He's also an asthmatic. Enger's writing of the scenes where Ruben's asthma acts up is truly incredible. In all of these scenes, I was so focused on my own breathing! I felt like Ruben, needing deep breaths. I was astounded by the power of this writing!
Another great character is Ruben's little sister, Swede, who has a penchant for epic outlaw poetry. The poem that Swede works on for much of the story adds a layer to the book in that in reading the poem's progression and Ruben's reaction to it, you get an idea of how Ruben wants the story to end. But it ends so differently from Swede's poem, but not so different that when it was all over, I didn't say, "Ah. Of course." You see, Swede's poem was the story, but not an exact copy of it.
Just read the book. You'll love it.
One more note: I found the ending of this book to be so surprising and so perfect. For me, that rarely happens. But when it does, it's such a great experience!
Market: Adult Fiction
Sensuality: Mild (a very sweet courtship; also, at the beginning of the book, there is a near-rape scene; also one character is "raising" a wife--basically, he was given a child whom he has been raising as his daughter, but one day, he intends to make her his wife. Horrid.)
Violence: Moderate (mostly at the beginning)
Mature Themes: Running away from the law, family, justice, mercy, redemption, faith...and more