Peace Like a River

Leif Enger
Grove Press, 312 pages, $13

Sometimes a novel transcends the words on paper and acquires an inexplicable incandescence. Such is the case for this book by a first-time author, which took the publishing world by storm last year (one of Time magazine's top five books), and is now available in paperback. Leif Enger, a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio, spins his tale about family, faith, and miracles through the eyes of 11-year-old asthmatic Reuben Land, who was saved from death at birth.

"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 more like the swing of a sword." Events propel his older brother into committing a heinous crime, while Reuben's younger sister frantically scribbles Western lyric verse in an effort to make sense of the events enveloping her family.

Enger's novel is distinctive for his shockingly beautiful prose, pacing that never falters, and a refusal to water down faith. The absolute lines of right and wrong are never compromised, but there is always sympathy for the multifaceted characters. When the tragic climax comes, as it must, it is both chilling and redemptive.

Those who overlooked this novel in hardcover won't want to miss it now. A stunning debut.

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