Title: Virgil Wander
by Leif Enger
Book Beginning quote:
Now I think the picture was unspooling all along and I just failed to notice. The obvious really isn't so--- at least it wasn't to me, a Midwestern male cruising at medium altitude, aspiring vaguely to decency, contributing to PBS, moderate in all things including romantic forays, and doing unto others more or less reciprocally (1)
Friday 56 quote:
The dog romped hither and yon, the kite string hummed like a prayer in my head, I had access to stories not remembered in years (56).
Virgil Wander, an average guy living in Greenstone, Minnesota, nearly dies when the car he is driving leaves the road and flips into Lake Superior. He was saved but had a severe concussion. His neurosurgeon warned Virgil that recovery would be slow but also assured him that he would likely regain most of his motor skills and eventually his words would return. Virgil is very aware that he can no longer communicate the way he used to. Words, especially adjectives, seem to elude him especially right after the accident.
He [the doctor] was correct about the language. Within weeks certain prodigal words
started filtering home.They came one at a time or in shy small groups. I
sea-kindly showed up, a sentimental favorite, followed by desiccated and
massive. Brusque appeared all by itself, which seemed apt; merry and
boisterous arrived together. This would be a good time to ask for your
patience if I use an adjective too many now and again—even now, some
years on, they’re still returning. I’m just so glad to see them (5).
When he returns from the hospital to his apartment above The Empress movie theater, which Virgil owns, he walks around looking at his clothes and furniture and it doesn't feel like his home anymore. From that point forward Virgil refers to himself as the "previous tenant." And, like many people with head injuries, life indeed does need to be renegotiated. Virgil finds himself more willing to speak his mind. He doesn't put up with bad behavior that he would have tolerated with before the accident. He makes new friends, and makes a difference in his community. He even gets up the nerve to follow his heart and asks his woman friend on a date.
I had a sudden horror that she might, after all, do something else--- she might have other plans , might've committed to being with other people on Christmas Day,
instead of being with me. The previous tenant would've borne this
bravely, would've expected it, embraced it, shouldered up under it. A
proper stoic him---me, I couldn't stand it (200).
Leif Enger's Peace Like a River
is one of my top ten favorite novels. When I realized that this favorite author had written another book, after a long hiatus, I had to read it. The plot isn't exactly riveting: an average guy, living in a small town in Northern Minnesota, has a life-changing accident which gives him a chance for a redo. Not only does his life change, but so do the lives of many other folks in his community. What a cast of off-beat characters, too. There is Adam Leer, the most famous person from Greenstone, who seems interested in assisting in the town's revitalization. Alec Sandstrom, a beloved minor league baseball player who many believe is really not dead, though he disappeared years ago. Alec's beautiful wife, Nadine, and his son now grown, who barely remembers his dad. Rune, Alec's father, comes to the town to get to know his son through Alec's neighbors. Rune makes and flies kites which draws people to him. There is a down-on-his-luck handyman and a sheriff who is tired of chasing down criminals and voles. The town finally decides to call it's three-day festival 'Hard Luck Days', because, well, that is how things seem to be going for everyone in town. There is even a little and a possibly catastrophic situation which provides a mystery that needs to be solved along the way.
Enger is a wordsmith. The first sentence (Book Beginnings quote) made me laugh out loud. In fact, I started the audiobook and within a few minutes of listening decided to start over but this time when my husband was with me, knowing he would enjoy the wordsmithery in Virgil Wander
as much as me. I was right. As we listened we found ourselves laughing out loud at many turns-of-phrase. At one point Virgil makes a comment about how romance, even for an adult, can make a person feel like they are back in junior high. I found the thought so funny we had to pause the CD to allow me time to get the giggles out of my system. I've included more quotes from the book than usual to give you a better sense of the writing. We really enjoyed the audiobook. MacLeod Andrews does a wonderful job as the narrator. He has a charming Minnesotan accent which seems just perfect.
And in the end, though nothing monumental happened, characters are happier and have grown in appreciable ways. I appreciate the thought from this quote about choosing to throw yourself
at the future---
I loved that kite, that cinnamon hound. We were old friends. I
had soared and laughed with that kite. It got me out on the perimeter. I
felt I had failed it somehow...It broke the line and caught the next
gust out of town. A perilous beautiful move, choosing to throw yourself
at the future, even if it means one day coming down in the sea (258).
I found the book an easy and fun read (listen) and I have already recommended it to my mother, sister, and daughters.
Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the opening quote from current book.
The Friday56 is hosted at Freda's Voice. Find a quote from page 56 to share,
RHS Book Club upcoming selection for sometime in 2020.