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Peace Like A River: (3&4) Beauteous Are My Cakes Indeed and Your Toughened Heart October 2, 2006

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

Here we will discuss chapters 3 and 4 of Peace Like A River.



1. anneswanson3 - October 2, 2006

Don’t you love the titles for the chapters ? 🙂

2. Nicole - October 2, 2006

Yes, the chapters are so fun! And I agree, I already love this book! I’m about a third of the way through it, and although I’m hooked, I’m also really intrigued. Anyway, I won’t spoil anything: chapter 3&4:

Okay, Swede is sooo totally my favorite character thus far. She is hilarious! And the poem about Sundown and Valdez is so good and I love that she’s the only girl among them, but it sure doesn’t seem to phase her!

These chapters keep building and building the tension between th Land family and Israel and Tommy so much, but it’s done in such a story telling kind of way. His writing style peaceful, rich with detail, and has this cadence about it, I can’t describe…

Yet after all the tension, I was a bit surprised at how quickly the scene happened when Davy shot the two boys. I mean it was like a page or two! I got to the end of the chapter and went back and read it again! It was so quick and sudden that it almost didn’t make sense with all the detail Reuben had been giving us up until now, and even that night with Swede’s birthday, the salesman visiting. But then as I thought about it, it did make sense because it was Reuben telling it and he would want to get that part of the story over with quickly. I don’t know maybe I’m reading to much into things. 🙂

3. Nicole - October 2, 2006

Oh yeah, and I also thought the part on page 33 when Reuben is watching all the people at the revival meeting and he reminds us of something: “Swede wrote years later”

Once torched by truth, a little thing like faith is easy.

What do you think about that?

4. anneswanson3 - October 2, 2006

I felt the same way Nicole! About how quickly things were told…brushed by as if small detail. Part of me feels like it is because Rube is telling the story, (but then again as a young man) but also I feel like maybe Leif Engler had this story in his head, itching to get out and so he was quickly doing so, the fine details to be added later, but not too many details? Maybe I am crazy.
Swede too is my favorite, by far. Her stories, her ideas, the way she loves words. So great.
My favorite line …”Make of THAT what you will.”
Thats all for now.

5. Ashleigh - October 2, 2006

In reading these two chapters, I felt like Enger had inserted “treasures” here and there. What I mean by that is this: I enjoy his writing style, but am not captivated by it. There are times when I feel like hurrying through certain sections because I’m bored by all the details. For example, the long description of the visit from the salesman Lurvy. I found myself turning the pages to see how long it was going to last before making myself read it. In my own experience, I’ve felt like that before — wanting someone to leave or stop talking and they don’t. So maybe that’s why reading it was so difficult. It was like reliving that feeling. However, I think the fact that I relived those feelings and knew how Swede felt shows how well Enger describes the situation and is yet another credit to his good writing.

Yet, every few pages he inserts something that I find myself making a note about. Lines such as “So thoughtlessly we sling our destinies” and “Be careful who you choose to hate.” These are lines that I’m still pondering, even after closing the book. Or when he talks about how the small bowl of soup feed all at the table with plenty to spare. It’s like the fish and the loaves. Yet another “treasure” in his writing.

As far as the description of the shooting, I thought it was written perfectly. In life, when crisis or emergency happens it often happens quickly. There is no warning. A threat occurs and action is taken. Many times it doesn’t make sense because it seems like a blur. So I found it very believable that Enger choose to just throw it at us as he did.

When it came to Swede’s poem, I had difficulty suspending my disbelief. Could an 8-year-old really write a poem like that? Even if she did devour Western dime store novels? Even though Swede is a remarkable character, I struggle to believe she could pen that poem.

I do like how Enger portrays evil as evil. There’s no watering down or trying to make us feel sympathy for the villains in the story.

Also, I couldn’t help but smile when Reuben mentions the tramp and says, “We never saw the man again. I’m not even sure why I mention him here — it’s not as if he pops up later, holding a clue or moral or other momentous piece of story.” In film school I remember learning how a good storyline never introduces something that doesn’t somehow fit into the story at a later time. Random, non-essential things can weaken a film’s storyline. So I thought it was great how Enger mentioned this man and then made note of how he was breaking a writing rule. After all, breaking the rules is allowed if you know how to do it correctly.

6. Heather - October 3, 2006

Ashleigh, I thought your comments about crises and emergencies happening quickly and being a “blur” was a great point. That’s sort of how I looked at those pages. Though in the midst of an emergency it can seem like time stands still, in actuality events are happening quickly and in a short amount of time. You don’t have time to analyze and process during the event, you usually just react. It’s not until later that you can actually go back and ponder what happened.

In contrast, his description of Lurvy and his visit takes pages, as the event itself took up much time, giving Reuben time to ponder and notice the details.

7. Heather - October 3, 2006

I love Swede’s character, too! I love how her poem is paralleling the events of the story and showing the shift, in her mind, away from the “romantic villain.” p. 35 “The bitter taste of Israel Finch’s palm, his unwashed smell, her own terror at the proximate unknown — all this took the sheen off villainy.”

Though I agree that the average 8-9 year old wouldn’t write like that, I wonder if this is just one more way Enger wants us to “suspend belief.” Another miracle, so to speak. Maybe she’s like those other child prodigies we hear about — reading at the age of 2, graduating from college at 12, or a violin virtuoso at age 3 — those kids who “rebut every rule!”

8. Heather - October 3, 2006

I agree that Enger’s writing is full of treasures — that’s one of the things I enjoy about his book.

I liked his nuggets on worry:

p. 25 “I succeeded in worrying about this escalation business for a good day and a half before worry died, as usual, at the hands of routine.”

p. 27 “Yes, yes sir — routine is worry’s sly assassin. It only took us till Wednesday night to get a little careless.”

P.S. Was anyone else chuckling at the pancake prophecy?

9. Heather - October 3, 2006

Reading about the tramp, I wondered if there was more meaning there than Reuben, our narrator, acknowledges. Here we have 2 paragraphs describing a homeless man, a wanderer, followed by this paragraph:

“But when we stepped out from the trees — stepped out into a peevish wind, the sky telling of winter, evening-colored at four in the afternoon — shouldn’t I have felt something then? As we walked toward home, toward lighted windows, shouldn’t I have sensed the Lands adrift, pushed off course, gone wayward?” p. 44

Another reference to this “Land” symbolism comes at the end of the chapter: “And when did he know just what he’d done? We’ve wondered that, Swede and I. When did it come to Davy Land that exile is a country of shifting borders, hard to quit yet hard to endure, no matter your wide shoulders, no matter your toughtened heart?” p. 50

10. Danielle - October 3, 2006

Ashleigh, I too thought your comments about crises and emergencies happening being a blur was a good point. I also had to read it twice to get what happened, but sometimes crises are like that too, you relive everything to make sure it actually happened.

I think there’s interesting tension to Enger’s style of writing, how he describes things very matter-of-factlyl:

“I ought’ve looked away but couldn’t.
He lowered the barrel to the base of Tommy Basca’s skull . . . ” etc. such descriptions are told almost starkly, but then there’s this philosophizing element:

“And when did he know just what he’d done? We’ve wondered that, Swede and I. When did it come to Davy Land that exile is a country of shifting borders, hard to quit yet hard to endure, no matter your wide shoulders, no matter your toughened heart?”

It also seems the more thoughtful interjections are a grown up Rueben, looking back and evaluating the story. So the story kind of has two voices. Rueben in the past and present, if you will

11. Chalene - October 3, 2006

Ok, Im almost done with Chp 4 so I’ll just share what I’ve thought so far. If I repeat someone, I apologize =)
The titles of the chapters are alot of fun becuase I always like to try to figure out what the chapter is going to be about based on the title.
What I love so much about this book and about any book is how much it makes me want to love God more. My favorite character is the father becuase of how great his faith and trust in God is. That scene ( I can’t remember if it was in chp. 2 or 3) is when Rueben goes to use the outhouse in the middle of the night and as he nears it, he hears what ends up being his dad pacing back and forth praying. And then, he ends up walking completely on thin air becuase of how much he’s focused on God rather than his surroundings and isn’t about to let anything come between him and the Savior in this great time of need.
It totally reminded me of when Jesus was walking on water and called Peter to come to him and Peter went out and was fixed on Jesus and was able to walk on the water but then, when Peter realized what he was doing and became aware of his surroundings ( water BENEATH his feat) he lost all hope & faith and was afraid and of course, started to sink into the water.
Jerimiah was undistracted and giving God is whole being in his prayers and Rueban saw that and NEW that his father was touched by God and was a miracle worker.

I love books that encourage me in my faith and love for God. I am soo excited to see what kind of a man Rueban grows up to be by the end of this book as a result of the faith of his dad and the Lords working in his own heart.

12. bethany3boys - October 3, 2006

Ashleigh, I liked your thoughts on how the crisis moves quickly and how that DOES relate to the reality of that in life. I also like how Heather pointed out the contrast of that with the Lurvy section making it long and descriptive you do kind of feel like you are suffering through Lurvy as much as the Land family is.

Danielle I like how he pops back and forth between his thoughts as a child and now too.

Ashleigh and Chalene it is interesting how his miracles mimick those we are familiar with in a bit different way.

I too love the quote
“So thoughtlessly we sling on our destinies.” I have been thinking about that one for quite awhile

And Heather I was totally cracking up at the pancake prophecy That was hilarious.

Hey and his crush is Bethany….that is the first time I have read about a Bethany in a book other than the bible. HEE HEE.

13. bethany3boys - October 3, 2006

When Heather pointed out the last name Land and the symbolism I was curious about the other names did you know
Jeremiah means God Exalts or uplifted. Interesting????
and David means beloved but I was thinking he used Davy and that would imply he is younger maybe making reference to David and Goliath???

14. Jane Swanson - October 5, 2006

I was also confused as to why Swede at 8 years of age would be cast as so prolific so I googled some interviews of Leif to try to understand his reasoning. He, himself began writing poetry at age 8 and was extensively read to as a child. He explains himself on Swede a bit here:

>>He adds, “Swede almost had to be a poet and write heroic couplets and cowboy verse because I grew up being read to from Robert Service, who wrote the great sourdough poetry, The Ballad of Dan McGrew, The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill and The Ballad of the Iceworm Cocktail. And then there is Robert Louis Stevenson. Mom read us Treasure Island every year for many years, starting before I was old enough to understand any of it. It was confusing to me, but I loved it. I loved the play of words. I loved the language. He was a strikingly contemporary writer for the time; he was ahead of his time. He’s my favorite writer of all time. I just love his poems, his great adventure tales, his brand of moral fiction.”

15. Jane Swanson - October 5, 2006

I also loved reading about how Sunny Sundown was created:

“I was about 20 pages into the manuscript and was working on it early one morning when my youngest son, John, got up and came toddling in in his pajamas. He said: ‘How’s it going, Dad?’ I said: ‘It’s going pretty well.’ He said: ‘You got any cowboys in that book yet?’ And I said: ‘No, not yet. But that’s a fabulous idea. You think I should?’ And he said: ‘Yes!’ I said: ‘Well if you could give me a good name, I’ll put a cowboy in the book.’ And he said: ‘Sunny Sundown.’ No hesitation. Sunny Sundown. He’d been thinking about Sunny, apparently, for a while. I just happened to be at a spot where I could take off into it. By the end of the day the first few stanzas of Sunny were written and I just never looked back.”

16. Heather - October 5, 2006

Again, Jane, thanks for the insight! What a creative son — I wonder if he will have his father’s gift for writing?!

17. bethany3boys - October 6, 2006

Jane I love that story about his son wanting the cowboys and naming Sunny Sundown!!! How cute.

18. Seta - October 10, 2006

I have just finished reading the first few chapters and have really enjoyed the book so far and reading everyone’s comments. I also really enjoy hearing about some of the author’s interviews and personal narrative. I would never have thought to google the author but the information is just great. I will have to remember to do that for future books. I love the Ballad of Sunny Sundown, it is hilarious and great writing. I am always impressed by strong writing styles, probably because I don’t have one. As far as an eight year old writing such verse, she could be one of those child geniuses. They do exist. For example, my 18 month old just learned to say “shoe” today and in my mind I think he may be headed for college in just a few years!!!

19. Heather - October 11, 2006

I’m glad you’re enjoying the book! I agree that the background info about the author is very helpful — knowing, for instance, that Enger was into lyrical western poetry at the age of 9 makes Swede more believable! I loved finding out that his son told him he needed some cowboys in the book and contributed the name “Sunny Sundown”! It makes it more humorous to me! What did we ever do before googling? 🙂 No more lugging microfiche from the library basement!

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