I reconnected with a friend from the Missionary Department a few months ago. She is the smartest person I know and a big reader. We're now Goodreads friends and I checked her All Time Favorites list for something to read. I was in such a rut! I only wanted to watch TV, so it had to be good. I chose Peace Like a River because she said she'd read it multiple times. The only books I've read more than once are Les Miserables and To Kill a Mockingbird. Short list.
I really enjoyed Peace Like a River. Thanks to Brian, I know the pattern for Westerns and this book follows that pattern pretty closely. My favorite character, Swede, is the youngest sister in a family that consists of Dad (Jeremiah), brother Davey, and brother Ruben (narrator). Swede is a talented writer and she knows every Western by heart. Anyway, there will be a violent act against a woman, justified revenge-murder, an escape from the law, and a shoot out. Check, check, check, and check. This one takes place in the early 1960s in the Midwest.
To me, the unique thing about Peace Like a River is its spirituality. I love it when authors can write Christian characters without making them cartoons. (That goes for TV and movies, but I've yet to see a Christian character on TV or in the movies who wasn't awful. Maybe Dave Rogowski on "Gilmore Girls"? I'm digging pretty deep here...) Jeremiah Land (the Dad) has performed miracles - Ruben has been a witness of some of those miracles. This quote is from the first chapter (amazing first chapter):
“Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave - now there's a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of the earth.”
When Davey kills a couple of guys who deserved it, he escapes from jail and Jeremiah, Ruben, and Swede set out to find him. A federal agent is also after Davey. There is a fantastic scene where Jeremiah wrestles with God when the "putrid fed" asks for Jeremiah's help to find Davey. Davey is guilty - he's broken the law, but he's also Jeremiah's son. What do you do when someone you love is guilty and wrong?
“Someday, you know, we're going to be shown the great ledger of our recorded decisions-a dread concept you nonetheless know in your deepest soul is true.”
Toward the end there is an epic miracle. It was a pleasure to read and I was fine until it was revealed what Swede did during the shoot-out. Then I cried and cried. I heartily recommend Peace Like a River.
2. The Home-maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
My dear friend, Brittany, gave me a Persephone book for my birthday in December. It had been a while since I'd read one and I forgot what a pleasure they are. Even down to the space between the words and the binding of the book. All perfect.
The Home-maker takes place in the Knapp household in a small-ish town in the United States before 1920. The opening scene is Evangeline Knapp viciously scrubbing her kitchen floor where meat grease has been dripped from the dining room to the kitchen sink. Eva is so VERY BUSY. She can never get all her work done. Her three children; Henry, Hannah, and Stephen, are totally in her way. They each create subterfuge at her every turn. Henry is always sick, Hannah is too quiet and emotional, and Stephen is a wee devil. Lester Knapp is a dreamer and a poet who is working as a miserable accountant for an emporium in town. He always has an upset stomach and his wife's silent disappointment is crushing him. Everyone in town admires Eva's style and perseverance - she has to endure sick children all the time, a husband who makes no money, and that devil of a child, Stephen.
Lester gets fired from his miserable job and decides he needs to die and give his family the insurance money. It has to look like an accident, though. Luckily his neighbor's house is on fire as he's coming home from getting fired. He rushes to the back of the house with a ladder as though to help, but really to throw himself off the steep roof. Just Lester's luck, he's only paralyzed from the waist down, not dead.
To make ends meet, Eva goes to the emporium and gets a low-level job in the ladies clothes department. Within a few days, Eva proves to be The Most Valuable Employee Ever. She's thriving! She knows her stuff and she appears to be born to sell. She comes home happy every evening and the family plays whist every night.
What about Lester? It turns out that parenting is his calling. A few months after his "accident," Lester has an opportunity to observe Stephen as Stephen plays near Lester's bed.
"...he had never seen Stephen except in active conflict with authority. 'I never saw one of my children just living before,' he meditated. As he lay in bed, a book was usually open before him, but he looked over it at the far more interesting spectacle of his undiscovered little boy."
Lester begins to study his children to discover their gifts and how he can nurture the best parts of them. Henry is healthy and steady with his father's attention - and he gets a dog to care for and love. Hannah learns how to cook with her father and they talk poetry and writing while they work. Lester discovers that Stephen is the greatest of them all - so determined and strong. There is a wonderful scene when a nosy neighbor comes in to tell Lester what he should be doing with Stephen - taking him in hand, that's what! When the woman finally leaves, Lester can see the black storm brewing in Stephen and Lester has to come up with something before the tantrum breaks. Lester hands Stephen an egg beater (the hand cranking kind) and Stephen spends the rest of the afternoon figuring out how to use it.
I've been in the position of seeing the storm gathering in one of my children and having to use all the power I possess to divert it. Parenting is a demanding job in every single way. Toward the end of the book Lester has a choice to make about going back to work.
"Could he do any better than before his miserable, poorly done, detested work? Could he hate it any less? No, he would hate it a thousand times more now that he knew that it was not only a collboration with materialism fatly triumphant, but that it kept him from his real work, vital, living, creative work, work he could do as no one else could, work that meant the salvation of his own children."
This is a fantastic book. It fit so neatly into what I've been thinking about lately. How about that? The perfect gift.