“I was to have one last night in the hills: another starry one, as you will hear, but with a moist hush to the air that was like something at full draw– a breath, an arrow.” –Peace Like a River, Leif Enger
I’ve always been drawn to stories of adventure– big weather, big stories. Voyages by ship or horseback are grand. So are gunfights and swordfights and fights against fear and loneliness. I decided to start my year off by reading about what the tough do when the going gets tough.
This book was handed to me on Christmas Eve with the directive, “drop everything and read this.” I didn’t, but the stack of books on my nightstand suddenly seemed less entrancing, so I did pick it up the next day. What a stunning book. Ree, a 16-year-old member of a clannish and lawless Ozark family, must find her fugitive father in order to keep the house he has put up as his bond. She’s tough and sensitive at the same time– loving, determined to be on the side of righteousness, yet unafraid of the darkness that surrounds her.
Peace Like a River
I first read this book over Christmas vacation of my senior year of college. It was a hard time for me. I had mono, I was struggling to finish up my fall semester papers to hand in late, I was heartsick. That year was about to get far more difficult for me. I credit this book with my return to reading for joy and love. I had been reading only for work– I needed to return to true literary elation. This book did that.
The story is one that will hook you immediately– Reuben, an 11 year old asthmatic daydreamer of a narrative, witnesses his brother commit a double murder out of a sense of nobility. Then brother Davy goes on the lam, and the loyal family (including the prodigious sister Swede, a writer of epic cowboy ballad poetry) follows him off into the West in an Airstream trailer, apparently following the will of God and the miraculous leading of their father, a school janitor who wrestles angels. It is a journey towards hope and a complicated understanding of good and evil, and towards a fateful reckoning.
The Bones of Paradise, by Jonis Agee ~ A sprawling family saga set in the sand hills of Nebraska in the years after Wounded Knee. Beautifully written, hauntingly vengeful.
The North Water, by Ian McGuire ~ Takes naturalism to a dark conclusion in a world of whaling ships and ice and murder.
To The Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey ~ Explorers in Alaska encounter danger and a world of Native myths and power. Split perspective between explorer husband and homesteading wife.
Next on My List in Adventure and Historical Fiction:
News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger (Separate from Peace Like a River and quite different. I think I would read anything Enger ever writes.)
The Plover, by Brian Doyle (sequel to the stunning Mink River, but this one’s about a boat.)
What are your favorite adventurous books? What do you think I should read next?