Set in the early 1960s, Enger's debut novel is narrated by eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy whose close-knit family is broken apart after the oldest son, Davy, commits a crime of passion and becomes a fugitive. Reuben, his father and younger sister become immersed in a series of mystical events as they follow Davy's trail across the northern United States. Enger's book is filled with biblical illusions and miracles crowd its pages like proverbial angels on the head of a pin; one curious scene features a pot of soup that replenishes itself in loaves-and-fishes fashion. The highlight of the book is its engaging narrator, Reuben Land: He's funny, endearing and committed to his family, no matter how wrong their actions.
David Abrams - Book Magazine
Dead for 10 minutes before his father orders him to breathe in the name of the living God, Reuben Land is living proof that the world is full of miracles. But it's the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale. From the vantage point of adulthood, Reuben tells how his father rescued his brother Davy's girlfriend from two attackers, how that led to Davy being jailed for murder and how, once Davy escapes and heads south for the Badlands of North Dakota, 12-year-old Reuben, his younger sister Swede and their janitor father light out after him. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase, just as he had a part to play in his brother's trial. It's the kind of story that used to be material for ballads, and Enger twines in numerous references to the Old West, chiefly through the rhymed poetry Swede writes about a hero called Sunny Sundown. That the story is set in the early '60s in Minnesota gives it an archetypal feel, evoking a time when the possibility of getting lost in the country still existed. Enger has created a world of signs, where dead crows fall in a snowstorm and vagrants lie curled up in fields, in which everything is significant, everything has weight and comprehension is always fleeting. This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a North Dakota winter, a novel about faith, miracles and family that is, ultimately, miraculous.
(Audio Version.) The cover, though beautiful, seems better suited for a reissue of Robin Hood or Camelot. And the reader's claim to fame is his role as an HIV-positive artist on the TV series Life Goes On. So what makes this an great audiobook? Two things: careful, thoughtful writing by Enger and passionate, spirited reading by Lowe. This is a graceful, stirring first novel, with echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird and classic Americana at its heart. Eleven-year-old Reuben Land lives a typically calm existence in a small Midwestern town; beyond having an extraordinary father (who performs quiet miracles), he's a pretty average boy. When two neighborhood bullies threaten his older brother, Davy, and his younger sister, Swede, life takes on a dark edge. The conflict escalates after Davy shoots the two boys dead, is in jail awaiting trial and escapes. Reuben, Swede and their widowed father take off in search of Davy, moving across the striking landscape of Minnesota and South Dakota. Their search ultimately leads them to make a very important decision, one that challenges their own morals and familial bonds. Enger's characters are exceptionally strong, and Lowe deftly portrays them: Swede's chutzpah, Reuben's reverence for his family, and their father's magic are all admirably expressed.
Fair or not, Enger's first novel will inevitably be compared to the work of Garrison Keillor: both men are veterans of Minnesota Public Radio, and the book very much shares the spirit of Keillor's radio work and fiction, with its quiet, observant gaze capturing the beauty of simple things, related through wise and thoughtful characters—in this case, the Land family from North Dakota. Asthmatic youngster Reuben Land tells the admittedly shaggy-dog story of his older brother Davy, who shoots and kills two violent intruders as they break into the family's home; Davy is convicted but manages to flee. Both the Lands and the law follow in hot pursuit, but the family seems to have support from a higher power. Father Jeremiah himself has performed a miracle or two in his lifetime (walking on water, healing the afflicted with his touch, and the like). Biblical allusions abound, and fantastic things happen, such as the patriarch's four-mile tour via tornado. "Make of it what you will," says Reuben. A low-key charmer for literary collections. —Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA
Minnesotan Enger pulls out the stops in this readable albeit religiously correct debut about a family with a father who may be touched by God and a son by the Devil. Jeremiah Land's wife left him years ago, and now, in a midwestern town called Roofing, in 1962 or so, he's janitor at the local school and sole parent of chronically asthmatic Reuben, 11 and the tale's teller; his precocious sister Swede, only 9 and already an accomplished poet of western outlaw-romances; and Davy, who at 17 becomes a killer—though possibly a just one. Two town boys from the wrong side of the tracks have a grudge against custodian Jeremiah (he caught them in the girls' locker room) and, after vowing revenge (and briefly kidnapping Swede), they appear one night in the upstairs of the Land house, whereupon Davy (did he lure them there?) bravely and determinedly shoots them dead. There's a trial, a conviction—and then a jailbreak as Davy escapes, not to be seen for some months. Miraculous? Well, Reuben has seen his father walk on air ("Make of it what you will," he advises the reader), and now there's a miraculous meal (a pot of soup is bottomless), the miracle of the family's being left an Airstream trailer—even the miracle of Jeremiah being fired, leaving the family free to take to the road after Davy. The direction they go (toward the Badlands), how they avoid the police, what people they meet (including a future wife for Jeremiah), how they find handsome Davy—all depend on what may or may not constitute miracle, subtle or wondrous, including the suspenseful events leading to a last gunfight and the biggest miracle of all (preceded by a glimpse of heaven), all followed by certain rearrangements among the lives of mortals. Handsomely written, rich with the feel and flavor of the plains—and suited mainly for those whose yearnings are in the down-home, just-folks style of the godly.
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