Virgil Wander (Enger)

Virgil Wander 
Leif Enger, 2018
Grove /Atlantic
352 pp.

An enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him.

Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals, including:

  • Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son;
  • Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man;
  • Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend and …
  • the Pea family, whose various members must confront tragedies of their own.

Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district.

Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a "formidably gifted" (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Sauk Centre, Minnesota, USA
Education—Moorhead State University
Currently—lives near Aitkin, Minnesota

Since his teens, Leif Enger has wanted to write fiction. He worked as a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio from 1984 until the sale of Peace Like a River to publisher Grove/Atlantic allowed him to take time off to write.

In the early 1990s, he and his older brother, Lin, writing under the pen name L.L. Enger, produced a series of mystery novels featuring a retired baseball player.

Peace Like a River, published in 2001, has been described as "high-spirited and unflagging" and has received some notable acclaim in literary circles.  His second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome is the story of an aging train robber's quest for self-discovery. Published in 2008, it received has excellent reviews. In 2018 Enger released Virgil Wander, a midwestern twist on magical realism about a town—and its inhabitants—struggling for a new lease on life.

Enger is married and lives on a farm in Minnesota with his wife. They have two sons. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Enger’s first novel in 10 years marks him as a foremost stylist. His prose is rhapsodic, kaleidoscopic and — I’ll say it — enviable. Even more enviable is the rare feat of writing a comedic literary novel that is also a page-turner. He’s performing on a trapeze that not many others have even reached for.… Enger deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Richard Russo and Thomas McGuane. Virgil Wander is a lush crowd-pleaser about meaning and second chances and magic.
Nickolas Butler - New York Times Book Review

The well-meaning sad sack who narrates this poignant novel …has just driven his car into icy Lake Superior when the book opens.… Enger’s novel gives magical realism a homely Midwestern twist, and should have very broad appeal.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) With an unexpected dry wit, Enger pens a loosely woven plot about plucky Greenstone residents working to rejuvenate their town…. Surprises and delights throughout; definitely worth waiting for. —Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Library Journal

(Starred review) The focus of [Enger’s] bright and breathing third novel feels mostly like life itself, in all its smallness and bigness, and what it means to live a good one.

[A] magical mystery tour of a fictional town on the shores of Lake Superior, near Duluth. [Enger's] first novel in a decade—perhaps his most ambitious. Or at least his most overstuffed.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Virgil’s spectacular sail off the road into Lake Superior is the inciting force of this novel. How does the catastrophe structure the novel, for Virgil and the townspeople?

2. Virgil muses often about the kindness or cruelty of women. Who are the women he contemplates or fantasizes about, and how do they respond to him—as friends, mother figures, lovers?

3. What are the odds stacked against the people of Greenstone? Some would say this is a complicated, even disenchanted time in America. How does the book affirm or dispute this view of the country?

4. Greenstone feels like any American town that has been passed over or forgotten. Why are so many novelists and playwrights fascinated by small-town America? What ideas do they allow us to explore? What other novels, plays, or films explore similar themes?

5. Enger has a flair for eccentric characters. What makes them memorable? How are they quintessentially human, for good or for ill?

6.What is the symbolism of the kites and their effect on the fliers? Why is kite-flying so addictive to some characters?

7. How does the loss of Rune’s son reverberate through the novel? How is he represented and mythologized throughout the novel?

8. Discuss the cache of old films and the way gatherings and friendships grow around them. What do they mean to Virgil? How culpable was he in keeping them? Why does he finally return the contraband and what ensues?

9. What does Adam Leer represent in the novel and how is this demonstrated to the reader? Is Leer an archetypal character of motiveless malignity like Iago from Othello, or something more complex?

10. How do Virgil and Rune change as they recover from their respective injuries? How do other characters help in their recoveries, and how do their chosen activities help them regain their footing?

11. Reread pages 262-264. What are the main themes and imagery in this passage, and how is Virgil moving toward resolution? How is Bjorn important to the process, as well as Nadine?
(Questions from author website.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2021