I never was able to finish Leif Enger’s very popular novel Peace Like a River. It just never really captured my attention. So when my book group picked his new novel Virgil Wander for our January discussion, I waited until the 11th hour to download it on my Kindle and get it read. And what a read it was! I love this book!
The plot centers on the story of Virgil Wander, a young-ish man who owns the old theater in his home town on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. He accidentally (maybe) drove his old car off a cliff into the lake, and he’s rescued by another person from the town. He’s in a coma for a while, and when he emerges he can’t quite remember things, including words. Add in the mysterious airplane disappearance a few years before of one of the hometown heroes, and the appearance of that man’s unknown father from Tromsø, Norway who happens to be a fabulous kite maker, and you have a wonderful story. I think the name of the book and the protagonist are totally intentional: Virgil for the Roman poet and the Iliad, and Wander for the way the book roams around through memory, story, relationship, and small town life.
The writing is wonderful, and perfectly evocative of all the wanderings. The women in my book group found the ending abrupt and hence a bit disappointing, and I sort of agree with that assessment. Sometimes endings are a little too neat. But these endings also make sense as arrivals home after all the wanderings of this wonderful novel.