From the first page of Leif Enger's first novel, set in the Dakotas mid-twentieth-century, the miraculous and the gritty coalesce in a fashion seldom seen in our day. We are a bit shocked, embarrassed by it. Unless they are joined by a writer who composes paragraphs the final sentences of which could be strung together in a catena resembling Marcus Aurelius's Meditations
. For instance: ''It's one thing to be sick of your own infirmities and another to understand that the people you love most are sick of them also. You are very near to being friendless in the world.'' Or this: ''The foundation had been laid in prayer and sorrow. Since that fearful night, Dad had responded with the almost impossible work of belief. He had burned with repentance as though his own hand had fired the gun. He had laid up prayer as if with a trowel. You know this is true, and if you don't it is I the witness who am to blame.'' The protagonist, eleven year-old asthmatic Reuben Land says this of the word miracle: ''For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week -- miracle
, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards. I'm sorry, but nope. Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word.'' As Reuben and his remarkable father and younger sister attempt to exonerate and recover the fugitive elder son and brother after his flight from imprisonment for an almost irreproachable crime, miracles intervene every so often, unexpectedly and without interrupting the irresistible narrative. The finale transcends even miracle and moves into the realm of eschatology. Here is a novel that defies easy pigeonholing, one which will burn into your heart and memory like few others.
An Eighth Day View:
Young Reuben Land has little doubt that miracles happen all around us, suspecting that his own father is touched by God. When his older brother flees a controversial murder charge, Reuben, along with his older sister and father, set off on a journey that will take them to the Badlands and through a landscape more extraordinary than they could have anticipated. Enger's novel is at once a heroic quest and a haunting meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.