:: peace like a river/pages 19-69 ::

[photo by Megan Dunham. She was drinking Coca-Cola Zero, as you can see.]

Good grief, where to begin? I took nine pages of notes! I'll try my best to narrow 'em down. This will be a challenge since within pages 19-69, events happened in epic proportions, it seemed to me. That word "epic" popped up a lot, too. Let's look at the definition (warning - I'm a serious dictionary nerd):

-a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.
-the genre of such poems.
-a long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time

I believe Swede is typing out her own epic, don't you? I love the juxtaposition of her cowboy poetry with the Land family's unfolding drama. I may be wrong, but I see some correlations between the characters in her poem, her family, and their enemies. I see Sunny Sundown as Jeremiah Land, and Valdez as Israel Finch & Tommy Basca. I see two narrators, though. Swede the Writer is obviously one, but Reuben is the other - he often calls himself a witness. He takes his role quite seriously, both to bear witness of his Dad's miracles, and to everything that goes on around him:

"But a witness must obey his strengths, and mine, forgive me, lie in keeping the story moving."
[page 33]

Somewhere in these pages Reuben describes he and Swede as a pair. He was disturbed when she shut him out of her room, to work on her epic. And though he has a keen eye for what happens, he cannot write with a poetic spin - only Swede can. It's as if they need each other, and will always need each other. Do you agree?

Their conversation on pages 68-69 made me laugh. As a writer, I knew what Swede meant by, "Just because I write it doesn't mean it really happened." But after chuckling, I wondered, if Valdez does represent the evil of Finch and Basca, why couldn't Swede kill Valdez? Then I began to think, after Davy shot those two boys, did she begin to see Davy as Valdez? I thought, Surely not. But then I recalled her emotional reaction to Davy's shooting - so intense that Jeremiah had to restrain her in the bathroom. And, she didn't seem happy with Davy at all when they visited him in jail, though she did eventually hug her brother.

What do y'all think? Why can't Swede kill Valdez?

And about that murder, or self-defense - which was it? When I first read pages 48-50, I thought the line, "I heard the dry complaint of the kitchen floor" was brilliant. What a perfect description of a dreadful sound you do not want to hear in your home in the dark of night. Your heart would stop for fear of an intruder. I read that phrase and knew an awful scene was about to occur. And then, of course, Davy shot those two boys dead; the family's enemies wiped out. My first assessment of the encounter was self-defense. However, Basca and Finch did not attack this time. Sure, they were planning to, but before they could, Davy shot 'em down.

On second thought, I jotted this in my journal:

"Since the murder was gruesome, I liked that the writing was not dramatized. Basca and Finch were evil, but this murder was just that - murder. No fight beforehand (for self-defense). After all, Davy said, "I meant to do it." [page 51] I think he was waiting for the opportunity - to take matters into his own hands (in contrast to Jeremiah who allowed God to use his hands. Up to this point, Jeremiah defended Dolly, but did not kill)."

I'd like to know, do you think Davy committed murder or practiced self-defense?

[forgive me, but my thoughts will jump around here today ....]

"A word here about this business of taking a breath." I just want to say that Reuben's description of his asthma on pages 19-20 is accurate. I understood all too well, as a former (minor) asthmatic. If you ever have to think about breathing to any degree, it is torture. Reuben's asthma worries me. He's a good kid, but he seems rather fragile with asthma. Basca and Finch are now dead, but I sense more danger to come, and I'm concerned for Reuben. Remember when Jeremiah was praying and air-walking? He uttered Reuben's name, not Davy's. [page 18]

Is it just me, or do you keep an eye out for Reuben, too?

I was fascinated by Jeremiah's explanation of the principle of "escalation." I believe that term of war builds on the foreshadowing of a great battle on page 4:

"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

Just typing that quote gives me a cold chill. Why is Reuben remembering his Dad in the past tense? I don't think I want to know yet, since we haven't see the worst night of their lives. And what about this quote?

"But Dad had spoken correctly: They did not know they'd already lost."
[page 34]

.... Referring to:

"What those fellows don't realize is, we've already won. The victory is ours."
[page 25]

I, of course, thought he meant that Basca and Finch would get theirs, and they did, but do you think Jeremiah's opinion of victory is something greater?

Another quote that sent a chill up and down my spine:

"'Onward Christian Soldiers.' Nearing the hour mark I closed my eyes and saw a picture of myself, from the side, a runnel of blood sliding out of my ear."
[page 30]

Something big is a comin' for sure.

I absolutely loved the miracle starting on page 24. Jeremiah defends Dolly, beating Basca and Finch witless, Jeremiah's face glowing like the moon, and the only luminescence in that darkened locker room. He did indeed seem like an angel - smiling, strong, though his eyes were sad - I think due to the boys' evil natures. It's also interesting to me that the miracles in this book are not the big, main events. They almost quietly occur, an assumed part of the narrative. They just happen. Always astounding, but Jeremiah never speaks of them.

Well, except for that wonderful tornado story. I was literally swept away by Enger's description of the powerful storm:

-"a pale umbilical rope"
-"a strong slender lady hip-walking through campus
[pages 52-53]

And HELLO - did anyone predict Mrs. Land leaving her family?! When I read that, I said aloud, "No!" I thought she died, not abandoned her children. It made me admire Jeremiah even more. For one thing, he speaks fairly well of his wife, the woman who left him and his children. And he is a great father to love and care for his children as he does. You can tell that Jeremiah, Davy, Reuben, and Swede are a close-knit clan.

The tornado story also revealed interesting aspects of Davy's character. Though I believe he committed murder, and he glimmers with danger for sure, he loves his family deeply. The way he slaved over that saddle for Swede, and even the murder - he was sick and tired of the danger imminent to those he loved.

But Davy did not believe Jeremiah should have survived that tornado. It seemed wrong to him, in his perception of God. The idea of a protective God bothered him. Davy wanted to do things himself, even own up to the charge of murder and not accept self-defense. Such a plea would imply that he did not control his actions, his life. Davy makes me nervous, but he is very intriguing.

Also, why did Superintendent Holgren hate Jeremiah so? Why in the heck did Holgren make him clean that disgusting, foul school basement? Was he scared of Jeremiah? Did he have a friendship with the Basca and Finch families? And how amazing was Jeremiah to dutifully clean up the sewage? It said a lot about him to me - he just quietly did his job. I don't think he enjoyed it or believed he deserved it, but he obeyed.

And now, because I'm a writer and drool over Leif Enger's sentences, here are a few of my favorites:

"I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers."
[page 40]

"The afternoon was still bright and smelled of wheat stubble and warm dust."
[page 42]

"Is it hubris to believe we all live epics?"
[said Swede - that word "epic" again - page 55]

"The weak must bank on mercy - without which, after all, I wouldn't have lasted fifteen minutes."
[said Reuben - I love this quote - page 56]

I know that I've left out quite a bit from pages 19-69. There is so much ground to cover! This is where y'all come in ....
What were your thoughts on these pages? What stood out to you?

* - [I'll be reading pages 70-128 for next week's discussion. I love how Enger labels the chapters. For example, the next four: "When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll", "Late in the Night When the Fires Are Out", "A Boy on a Horse", and "By the Grace of Lurvy." Very telling.]


Crystal said...

Here are my thought as I recorded them while I was reading. I can't hold myself back. I'm reading ahead.

Beauteous Are My Cakes Indeed

I love these quotes about worry:
“…worry died, as usual, at the hands of routine.” [page 25]
“…routine is worry’s sly assassin.” [page 27]
Isn’t that so true? I can worry myself sick at night in bed and then get up in the morning and start fixing breakfast and POOF! I’ve forgotten all about my worries as I get into my daily routine.

I thought it was hilarious that Swede turns in her poems to her math teacher.

I have been in a few services where the preacher had “his own special version of the Bible” with verses against “card-playing, rock-n-roll and Russian people”…and dancing and beer. (I’m Baptist.) [page 28]

“So thoughtlessly we swing our destinies.” It is scary how true that is. You literally never know what you are getting yourself in to. [page 28]

I love his description of being touched by God as “the electric unearned love of the great Creator” and “like truth unhusked” [page 33]

Your Toughened Heart

I love that he describes part of Swede’s abduction by Finch and Basca as having to “hear the language of the unloved.” [page 35] I’ve never thought about it that way…but it is a perfect definition of profanity and obscenity. It is the language of the unloved.

His “admonition to the mind sick” was a little shocking. To acknowledge that there could be sickos reading the book is a little creepy, but probably true, and his advice to them is sage. “Be careful whom you chose to hate. The small and vulnerable own a protection great enough, if you could but see it, to melt you into jelly. Beware those who reside beneath the shadow of the Wings.” [page 36] Doesn’t it just make you feel like your kids are so safe?

Is it any surprise to anyone that “the reformatory failed to live up to its name”? [page37] Have you ever seen a young person come out of one of those places better off? As a high school teacher I certainly never did. They mostly learned new forms of evil.

“…shouldn’t I have sense the Lands adrift, pushed off course, gone wayward?” [page 44]

When I read that I just started to cry. I feel the same way. Back in mid-December we took our kids to the tree farm to pick out a Christmas tree. Snow was already covering the ground and it had begun lightly falling again. It was the absolute perfect setting. We wander through the fields of beautiful evergreens draped in snow and I took pictures of the kids for our Christmas card. Shouldn’t I have been able to sense that my Grandpa was dying? That he was leaving me? Why didn’t I know that I was now living on a planet that did not hold him anymore…that my “Goodbye, I love you” at Thanksgiving was the real one? I just sailed through that beautiful morning innocently…like a person that had never experienced loss. I didn’t know until I got home and heard my Dad’s voice on the phone. That is when I started living in a world without him…when I hoped for heaven sooner rather than later for the first time. Thank goodness God didn’t give us precognition…that may be his most precious gift.


I’ll have to admit I didn’t see those shootings coming. I was reading with my mouth wide open. They were standing there and I thought Davy would just chase them out of the house and then he fired. He shot them both…and then shot a third time at close range. I just couldn’t believe it!!

How will a miracle help them now? Will Jeremiah perform a miracle to aid his son? Can he choose when and to whom he performs them?

Peeking at Eternity

The whole medical school and tornado story was very enlightening. I enjoyed getting some more information on Jeremiah.

Here is a question: On page 52 he comments about the skeleton named Yorick. How do authors do that? Do you think he was once in a classroom with a skeleton named Yorick or Yorick was his favorite poodle’s name or his favorite literary character or he wanted to name his oldest son Yorick but his wife wanted Brandon so instead he named the skeleton Yorick? Do you think he wracked his brain for weeks trying to come up with a good name for a skeleton? I always wonder about things like that. (Told you I’m obsessed with names.)

I was glad to get some background on what happened to their mother too, but I’m so sad that she was so shallow and low. When he says that they never hear from her and have never met “the gentleman on whose behalf we’d been erased” it just oozes pain. How can women, or men for that matter, do that to their own children? It is unthinkable and yet it happens all the time.

I was laughing so hard when Swede was going on and on about smelling a skunk when Mr. Holgren came to their house. [page 65] She is such a cute character…but I’m glad she is not my daughter.

I’m getting frustrated with Davy though. He isn’t helping the defense attorney at all. I want him to stand up and fight…to tell what they did to his sister. I want to see Swede on the stand laying out all of the gory details. It is driving me crazy that he is so obtuse about the whole thing. Poor Mr. DeCuellar.

General Comments:
Aren’t the chapter titles awesome! I just love them. Beauteous Are My Cakes Indeed. What a title!

I can’t get enough of the Sunny Sundown poem. I hope we get the whole thing by the end. I understand Swede’s frustrations. If your heart, mind and soul are not in the right place you simply cannot undertake creative endeavors.

Now, comments on the questions you posed in your post:

Yes, I think Swede originally saw Valdez as Finch and Basca but now she can’t help but cast Davy in that role. That is why she is so conflicted about him, why she can’t kill him off. Don’t you remember when you found out that the world wasn’t black and white, that not all people could be labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’? I sure do.

I don’t know why Mr. Holgren hates Jeremiah so much, maybe we’ll get more of that story later. My guess right now is that there are people out there that just hate “good” people. People that keep their tempers under control and never speak a mean word about anyone else tend to make “bad” people uncomfortable and self-conscious. The “bad” are always looking for a way to bring the “good” down a few notches. It makes them feel better about themselves. Mr. Holgren is afflicted, angry, unloved, etc. and he wants others to feel just like him.

I am a little confused about Davy as a character. I’m not sure why he is bothered by the idea of a protective God. Who would be upset about your father being saved from a tornado? Maybe it is just that teenage boy bravado and machismo coming through? He doesn’t want to feel like anyone (even God) is taking care of him. He can take care of himself and his family. That is also why he won’t accept any help during the trial etc. (oops, did I skip ahead there?)

Anyway, love the book and the discussion. Can’t wait to read more thoughts.

Head over to my blog later for a great recipe for some delicious “Readin’ Muffins” :)

Libby said...

I will post more later but when I read your question about the name Yorick I did a google search and this came up "Yorick was the deceased court jester whose skull is exhumed by the gravedigger in Act 5, Scene 1, of Shakespeare's Hamlet. " It fits but don't know for sure

Libby said...

I'm a dictionary nerd myself-even put one on my pda to have on hand while reading!
I agree there there is a strong bond between Swede and Rueben like when talking of Swede's ordeal".. to think of it still hurts me, physically.I feel it churning yet"
I think Swede can't kill Valdez because after what Finch and Basca did to her an innocence is gone and Valdez rep evil. Before she had seen it at a distance and vaguely from the villains in the books she read "like popping raisinettes" and like Rueben brought up was even kind of ,i can't think of the word he used, kind of a villain one could sympathize with, but now she has seen and smelled and felt real evil and it is a reality in her life now and a 9 year old girl can't kill evil (- but God can and will) I don't think,myself, that she saw Davy as Valdez. I think she's mad at him for changing their lives forever.
I'm with you , I struggled with whether it was murder or not and too came to the conclusion that it was even though I could sympathize with WHY he did it. My sister was raped by the husband of a friend of my Mother's and when I found out months later I wanted to kill him. I wanted to take a shotgun( not that I had one) and shoot him. He was running for local office and i wanted to write on every sign he was a rapist.I wanted to confront him and have him arrested, but my sister didn't want me to do anything. She was afraid he'd find out where she lived etc. I had My heavenly Father to humbly and trustingly bring my anger to eventually,KNOWING God saw and would handle it in His time and Davy didn't. I know apart from grace I am capable of what Davy did.
escalation principle was fascinating and wise.
Do you think there is a worse night coming than the one we've already seen?? I was thinking the shooting was the worst night of their lives!!!
Yes, I think the victory Jeremiah's opinion of victory was greater but involved that they would have to give account to God for what they had done-they wouldn't get away with it.
NO I didn't predict Mrs. Land abandoning her children!! I thought she was dead!!
I think the superintendent was a power hungry jerk who wanted people to bow to him and I can picture Jeremiah being respectful i can't imagine him being in awe and afraid of him and Mr Holgren hated him for it. Am I reading too much into that?
Some humor I loved: "but unhappily the padlock had only nicked some capillaries and missed the all-important juggler" that is hilarious ! And " the kind of villain who'd dig for earwax to groom his mustache" LOVED these two quotes
Oh and the way the policeman handled Swede's abduction infuriated me!
FYI I've been to Ivar's acres of clam in Seattle on the waterfront! Fun to see a familiar place in a book.
My goodness there is just so much here i will stop myself!!

Robin said...

I love the way the tornado story is neatly inserted, interrupting the tragedy and suspense to tell a sort of "tall tale"/miracle. It's a very nice contrast between the characters of Jeremiah and Davy. Following the tornado experience, Jeremiah continues to live and make choices that show his constant faith in God's care and direction, and his care for his family. Davy's "toughened heart" leads him to feel that he needs to always take matters into his own hands.

The chapter titles are one of my favorite things about the book!
I'm loving your notes and analysis, Jenni. And reading the perspectives of the commenters too!

Andrea said...

Like you said Jenni, where to begin? This selection of the book is packed. Much of what has already been said was striking to me while reading as well. To give my opinion on your questions:

Reuben and Swede have a strong connection for sure. He makes several allusions to them staying in touch and disucssing events in the past such as "And when did he know just what he'd done? We've wondered that, Swede and I." Passages like that indicate that they stay in close touch throughout their lives.

I do not know why Holgren hates Jeremiah so much, but Crystal's explanation seems likely to me.

I think I have to look at more of Swede's epic before drawing any correlations between the characters. I'm enjoying the poetry, but I'm just having a little difficulty in the suspension of disbelief that it's supposedly written by a 9 year old - no matter how talented or witty ;-)

I was so disappointed to find that the mom had deserted them. I, too, thought she must have died.

I think that Davy could get off with a self-defense plea if everything goes right, but I don't personally feel like what he did was self-defense since there was no struggle directly before he shot the victims.

Since no one else has mentioned it yet, I'll say the character of Tin Lurvy stood out to me. I wasn't sure whether I felt more sorry for Swede because her birthday got interupted by the guy or for Lurvy himself who seemed so pathetic. My heart ached for him with the line "the cheerful insensibility of Lurvy's opening monologue- the sounds of hope landing facedown." And the soup multiplication miracle seems to set Jeremiah up as not just someone of strong faith who performs an occassional miracle, but a Christ-like figure.

It’s also been interesting how there so much humor and light-heartedness mingled in with the tragedy. Even though he says he was not making fun, you can't help but smile at the description of the church service in which there is "a room littered with supine Methodists" and the prophesy that provides the "beautieous are the cakes" name for the chapter. And the whole Lurvy episode was quite funny to me. Then there's the letters Davy receives, with perfume. And all that in the middle of descriptions of a near-rape, followed by a beating, two people shot, one arrested, a tornado and a deserting wife.

I've got to finish up, but I wanted to say I also enjoyed these quotes:

"Dolly said the laughter just flooded through her and came not only from relief, as you might surmise, but from a reckless and holy sort of joy she had never felt before, not even while cheerleading."

The trumpet playing that was "at once so beautiful and so calamitously loud I could've wept for either reason."

"Mischief....we were now beset with a whole lexicon of legal applesauce."

And the already mentioned quotes about worry and the admonitions to the mindsick.

Looking forward to more!

Crystal said...

I agree about the 9 year old writing poetry like THAT! I can swallow that she is in tune with what everyone is thinking and feeling more than Reuben is because girls do mature faster than boys in that area. But it is a little hard to believe that she can write so well. I often forget that she is supposed to be the youngest in the family. I find Reuben's thoughts and feelings to be much more realistic and age appropriate. On the other hand I wouldn't want to do without the poem. I love it.

jenni said...

Crystal - I also loved those quotes about worry. Unfortunately, I know worry all too well.

I found "hear the language of the unloved" very profound, too. That made the whole episode most scary to me, and I shudder to think of all the child abductions these days.

I actually intended to mention the "admonition to the mind sick", so thank you for bringing it up. All of the pertaining quotes still linger in my brain.

Thank you for sharing those bittersweet memories of your grandfather. I do relate, as I miss my Papaw every single day lately.

Oh yeah - I loved finding out that Jeremiah was once interested in medicine. I'm wondering if that will play out later in the story somehow.

I don't know - I'd love for Swede to be my daughter!

Libby - interesting info. you found about the name "Yorick"....

And thank you for sharing about your sister. I can understand why you would feel that way, totally. I think in Davy's case, again, he did not even want to trust God with protection of his family (like you did). He really just wants to do things on his own.

I do think there is a worse night coming.

Ah, interesting - you're right - Jeremiah was not afraid of his boss and Holgren probably did hate that.

Robin - I loved your insight here:

"I love the way the tornado story is neatly inserted, interrupting the tragedy and suspense to tell a sort of "tall tale"/miracle. It's a very nice contrast between the characters of Jeremiah and Davy."

Andrea - what you said about Swede is funny, but I think she might be able to write like that. I only say that because she is an exceptionally sharp 9-year-old, and reads books and poetry that not many children her age do. Plus her Dad works miracles and all....

Your thoughts on Lurvy are very interesting.... He is a character you at least have some sympathy for. Jeremiah treats him quite kindly, too.

And I jotted down some of the same exact quotes!

jenni said...

And Andrea - I love the humor and tragedy combination. To me, it is more realistic. I believe God gives us humor at some point, as a form of mercy. We laugh in spite of ourselves. Or maybe that's just my family.

kate ortiz said...

jenni - i think you are on to something when you mention that swede could indeed write like that and that her dad works miracles. i think it is important to remember those two things together. this is not your typical family. jeremiah is not your typical man and swede is an exceptional kiddo. i love that enger didn't feel confined to writing swede only how we would perceive a typical 9 year old.

jenni said...

Kate, I'm glad you said that because though I typed a smiley face, I was actually serious in my opinion of Swede. I do think the Lands are an atypical family. I've even wondered why Reuben sometimes says, "I felt, more than heard" [page 49], and things like that. I mean, hasn't he said that kind of thing more than once? Very interesting family.

Also, what do y'all think of the repeated phrase, "Make of it what you will?" [page 47] I feel like Reuben is asking us - you and me - do we believe in the contradiction of the earth right before our eyes, or disbelieve? Or that miracles can only happen in a novel?

Andrea said...

Well, the poem is, I'm sure, going to be integral to the story and who else is there to write it besides Swede? So, I'll have to accept that, right?

Funny that I didn't have any problem "believing" in the miracles Jeremiah performed, but a 9-year old coming up with phrases like "parched ravine" and "labrinthine cavern" and the characters of Valdez and Sunny Sundown did give me pause. :-)

jenni said...

That's what I love about this book discussion, Andrea - to see what y'all see in the book (that I don't).