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Peace Like A River: (1&2) Clay and His Separate Shadow October 1, 2006

Posted by Han in Peace Like A River by Leif Enger.

We will discuss chapters 1 and 2, Clay and His Separate Shadow Here.



1. Ashleigh - October 1, 2006

As some of you know from reading my blog, I finished chapter 1(“Clay”) only hours before experiencing a health scare with my 10-month-old. She had a febrile seizure and stopped breathing for several seconds. In the time following the seizure and trip to the ER, I thought back to the section on miracles (part of which Bethany quoted from on the sidebar). Specifically the line that reads, “…why I was allowed, after all, to breathe and keep breathing.”

Seeing my daughter not breathe only to have air fill her lungs seconds later gave me a renewed thankfulness to the Lord for every breath my children take.

Not only that, but I was freshly reminded that our lives are indeed in God’s hands. Like Reuben Land, we don’t know why God has allowed us ”to breathe and keep breathing,” but He does. In His goodness He preserves and sustains our lives and the lives of our children.

Also, I found it interesting to read an interview Leif Enger did with the Altantic Monthly Press. He was asked, “Reuben’s asthma figures prominently in the story. Unless you yourself are afflicted, how were you able to describe the condition with such detail?”

His response:

Our oldest son was gripped by severe childhood asthma when I started the novel — he was seven years old and working hard just to get his breath. Of course we’d have given anything for a gigantic, lung-clearing miracle, but since it didn’t happen the only course was to treat him medically the best we could, and try to comprehend his struggle. That wasn’t difficult because twice in my life, at 13 and again at 21, I had isolated, terrifying asthmatic episodes — times when breathing was wrenching muscular effort and I didn’t dare go to sleep. But for me it never became chronic, and the good news is that our son just turned 14 and his asthma has diminished to the point where he rarely needs medicine. Teddy Roosevelt is much admired in this house, and we aspire to the strenuous life.

Oh, and a quick note on chapter 2 (“His Separate Shadow”). I almost had to skip reading the description of Reuben cleaning the goose. I kept cringing and wondering if I’d be eating vegetarian for the next week or two. In the end, I did make it through the section with my eating habits still in tact.

2. bethany3boys - October 1, 2006

I really liked the first chapter of this book. His description of his birth had me right from the start. I really love his writing style.
The quote about miracles really jumped out at me too. I kept thinking about it. I was really thinking about the whole aspect of miracles making us uncomfortable. I mean really a miracle should make us feel that way because it is not natural and doesn’t follow our laws of nature. I had always loved a quote by Albert Einstein…

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I still like this quote. Just looking at the world around me I feel that it is true…it is really amazing all the beauty God created around us. Just life in general, looking at a newborn baby I can feel as though everything is a miracle. But I see where Reuben is coming from and I understand his statement, I have been attributing miracles to normal everyday things. That yes are pleasant and amazing but really…someone coming back to life or being healed…that goes against our laws of nature and truly are miracles. And yes in a way reading those stories do make me uncomfortable…Do I believe them? Was it a hoax? I thought this was an incredible statement that really got me thinking.

I too can relate to the Asthma thing. While I don’t have Asthma it is looking like my youngest son might. When he is running and goes into a coughing fit and can’t get his breath or when he has a cold and I have to sleep with him to make sure he is breathing okay. It is really quite scary. So when he starts describing the breathing thing I start to tense up.

Isn’t it intersting how reading a book we bring all these life experiences of our own to the table and can relate to the story in different ways based on our experiences so that each person reading the same book is going to have a different experience reading it and connect to the book in different ways.

That is funny about the goose cleaning Ashleigh!!! He is pretty descriptive of some pretty gross things in this book. HEE HEE.

3. anneswanson3 - October 2, 2006

Love the book! I finished late last night. I could not put it down.

But on the first two chapters….

I was obviously hooked right away, Leif Englers writing style is one I love. I really love narratives.
I loved this quote:

” My sister, Swede, who often sees the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed- though ignoring them will change you also. Swede said another thing too, and it rang in me like a bell: No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, Here’s what I saw, Here’s how it went. Make of it what you will.”

First off, the name Swede, I love. Secondly it is true. There is something about miracles that makes us uneasy, not sure what to feel. Third, the “make of it what you will” line…just a good one that i love.
Like Ruben I do have asthma, it is better now that I am older, but at times when my lungs get really worked up it is scary, feeling your chest gasping for air, wheezing.
When I was younger I never had a severe attack but had times at school where I had to sit out puffing on an inhaler because my breathing was so labored.
We do often take every breath we have for granted. I have thought a few times when I was trying to find a way to breathe easier as my lungs were working their best to help, how amazing each breath we take is. When I was in labor with Evan ( with my non-working epidural) I found it really hard to breathe but even more so when I was pushing I would seem to run out of air really quickly. I felt sad I remember because I thought I would never push him out because I could not hold my breath long enough to bear down long enough to push him out. I prayed a lot during my delivery asking God to give me strength and he did. Everyday women give birth, and on that day in August I added to the numbers. No miracle to many, although many will say each baby born is a miracle. I had my son naturally,(I had had a c-section before) and furthermore I had pushed him out all on my own when for the last fifteen minutes I thought I would never be able to, that I would run out of air. I am sure many have felt as I do, but when the nurse told me she thought I would not be able to do it I guess in my world it felt all the more miraculous. I suppose most feel this way when they give birth, but the strength I got was miraculous to me.
I had to laugh at the part about the goose cleaning.. Although my husband is not a big hunter, the rest of the men in his family are. He has gone with them a few times, and he does not want anything to do with the cleanup.
Thanks too for sharing the quote from Leif Ashleigh, that is very interesting.

4. bethany3boys - October 2, 2006

Anne you are cute!! I can’t believe you finished the book already…Do you read while you are nursing? I use to do that and devoured a ton of books then.

5. anneswanson3 - October 2, 2006

I do read while nursing…makes it go by faster 🙂

But I also love to read (only when the book is a good one)
late into the night, until that last page is read. I am then satisfied and ready for some sleep.

6. Karen - October 2, 2006

My father was healed a couple of weeks ago from a very strange and rare pancreatic ailment. After a medically imposed fast, that was supposed to go on for 7 weeks but really only lasted 5 weeks, a large absess in his pancreas disappeared…literally overnight.
One doctor who is treating him can’t believe this has happened and has been running CT scans, ultrasounds, and x-rays on him weekly in order to “find” the cause of Dad’s illness. He is convinced that my dad has cancer but just hasn’t found it yet. The doc. is really shaken up by the possibility that a miracle may have occurred.

7. Ashleigh - October 2, 2006

Anne, my dad is a hunter and fisherman. So I remember when I was growing up, seeing animals he was going to clean hanging in the garage. You’d think I wouldn’t have such a weak stomach for it. But I do. 🙂

8. Heather - October 3, 2006

I love the last few paragraphs of this first chapter, especially after reading on ahead:

“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.

If he were here to begin the account, I believe Dad would say what he said to Swede and me on the worst night of all our lives:

We and the world, my children, will always be at war. Retreat is impossible. Arm yourselves.”

Interesting thought — arming yourself with miracles. When Reuben mentions that “most ignored the miracles as they ignored Dad himself,” it demonstrates how man wants to rationalize everything he sees. I think Karen’s example about her Dad shows this, with his doctor trying every test possible because he needs to explain away the idea of something miraculous occuring.

9. Heather - October 3, 2006

I thought Enger’s choice of their family name to be full of symbolism:

pg. 15 “Dad’s family, the Lands, had not only lost their farm toward the end of the Dust Bowl years, they’d never again owned anything like the ancestral namesake. We’d become renters — which was, in our case, about all that the family of a small-town school janitor could expect.”

10. Heather - October 3, 2006

What are your thoughts on his description of Davy’s shooting of the goose? (Knowledge vs. confidence):

p. 16 “…on his face is nothing at all but the knowledge that the goose is his. Not confidence — I understand confidence. What Davy had was knowledge.”

Confidence would mean he believed he was capable of getting that goose; knowledge implies it’s already a done deal.

11. bethany3boys - October 3, 2006

Heather what great points on man trying to rationalize everything he sees.

I didn’t notice the Land thing and the symbolism…thanks for pointing that out and how significant.

I tought it was interesting how this…knowledge confidence forshadows Davy and his Character. Don’t want to give too much away.

12. anneswanson3 - October 3, 2006

Honestly I missed that at the time I read it, but like you both said
(Heather and Bethany) it does forshadow his character, what he has made up his mind he is going to do, not what he could do. Very interesting.
Why did people not care for the Lands more? Seems like they were very to themselves (which perhaps was the case for most familes in Roofing) but it also seemed that most thought Jeremiah Land was a bit off…but he was such a kind gentle man, that why would more not embrace him. Especially a single father raising three young ones?

13. Nicole - October 4, 2006

I didn’t notice the symbolism of the name either, what a great point! This book is like an English class waiting to happen! 🙂

14. Jane Swanson - October 5, 2006

Leif Enger says:
When I was starting the book six years ago, my son was fighting a terrible case of asthma,” Enger says. “He was just fighting for breath. It was terribly frightening for Robin and me. We didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know how to treat it. We didn’t know how to prevent it.

“””””As a parent you want to work a miracle. You would take your son’s place if you could. Basically I wanted to understand what he was going through and I wanted to somehow translate my wish for his good health into the book. “””””

All I knew at the beginning was that the narrator was asthmatic and his father did miracles.”

I loved knowing this “starting point” for the writing of this book.
For any of us who aspire to writing, I guess a good place to start, as it is said, to WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.

15. Jane Swanson - October 5, 2006

I also wanted to quote what Leif Enger says about faith:

Enger: You grow up inside the faith of your family, which is Christianity in both Reuben’s and mine. For most of us there’s a time when you must decide whether that faith is true or false; you accept it as yours, as something to be nurtured and guarded, or you cut ties and go looking for truth elsewhere. You are deciding who and whose you will be in this world. I wanted Reuben, in his sickness and his loyalty to both Davy and Jeremiah, to come up against these questions—before he wanted to, probably before he was ready to. That sort of drama is rare at the age of eleven; I know I had much more time than that, and easier circumstances, but we came to the same conclusions.

16. Heather - October 5, 2006


Thanks for pointing us to that interview w/ Enger. It is helpful to know some of the background that a person brings to his writing. Very interesting!

17. bethany3boys - October 6, 2006

Jane I second what Heather said…what great info to have on his background. Thanks.

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