I'm not entirely sure how to talk about this book. I finished reading it almost two whole weeks ago, and every time I thought, "Oh, I have time to write a book review," I'd then think, "But what can I say about Peace Like a River?"
So this is me doing my best.
Cowboy's youngest sister sent me this book when I was recovering from my surgery back in September. I started reading it, got through two chapters, and decided I did not want to read more. The narrator kept warning that the story was not going to be a happy one, that seriously bad things were going to happen, and that his ordinary, happy childhood was going to be irrevocably changed by the events he was about to relate. And I didn't really want to deal with any of that. So I put it away.
But then I thought that surely my sister-in-law wouldn't have sent me a depressing book to cheer me up while I recuperated. So I gave it another chance. And in chapter three, the narrator's younger sister began writing an epic western poem. And I identified so strongly with her love of the romanticized wild west that I read the whole book. And I'm so glad that I did. Because this book is lyrical and beautiful and haunting. Yes, it's got sadness. Yes, it's got pain. But it also has love and warmth and joy and miracles.
Actual miracles. Thanks to them, I'd almost characterize this as speculative fiction, or maybe even magical realism. The narrator's father reads his Bible and prays and talks about God a lot, but there's little mention of Jesus, if any, so I wouldn't classify this as Christian fiction.
A quick summary of the plot might be in order. Except I don't want to spoil things. Suffice it to say that when the narrator's older brother's girlfriend is assaulted at school, violent act piles on violent act, culminating in bloodshed, an epic journey, and a lot of self-discovery and growing up for all involved.
Did I love this book? I think so. It's very different from the books I read most of the time, but in a good way.
Particularly Good Bits:
Let me say something about that word: miracle. For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week -- a miracle, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards. I'm sorry, but nope. Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word (p. 3).
I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers (p. 40).
Cole Younger? Butch Cassidy? John Wesley Hardin? Maybe these fellows were just flush with Christmas spirit, but I'd never heard about it. I mentioned these doubts to my sister (p. 118).
"What is spookism, anyhow?" I complained. The word conjured a scary version of faith in which a person believed mostly in malicious unseen fellows who might creep up behind you and breathe on your neck hairs (p. 204).
When I thought about it, a dead fellow doing sit-ups in your yard might make you faint just as handily as one strolling (p. 222).
The infirm wait always, and know it (p. 290).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence and suspense. I can't remember any bad language, but there may have been some mild curse words.