Book Review: Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Why didn’t anyone tell me Leif Enger wrote another book??

The author of Peace Like a River showcases his supreme storytelling skills in Virgil Wander, a novel about how a small town and its citizens try to stay relevant in the face of changing times.

The novel’s title character, Virgil, is a refugee from another town who found a home in Greenstone, Minnesota, when he bought the local movie theater. In the aftermath of a terrible car accident, he struggles to regain his footing and reconnect with his life. To confound matters, the brain injury he suffered during the wreck has robbed him of most of his adjectives, making it hard for him to communicate.

Fortunately, Virgil is surrounded by a cast of characters who contribute to his healing. Foremost is Rune, a visitor from Norway who is seeking more information about his son, a minor league baseball player who mysteriously disappeared ten years prior. Rune has mystical kite making abilities that figure prominently in the story. Also populating the story are the baseball player’s beautiful widow and troubled son, the town’s possibly murderous prodigal son, the Pea family which is struggling with its own tragedies, and Jerry, a man whose “redemption” leads to his downfall. All characters are very well developed.

The plot is full of quirkiness, including a ten-year-old boy’s vengeance against a killer sturgeon, illicitly acquired film reels, a thousand pound bomb and the town’s inaugural, ironically named “Hard Luck Days” festival. But mostly the story is about people helping their neighbors and their community find their way.

Virgil Wander is a pleasant, creative read, although not quite the same caliber of Peace Like a River. But that’s a tough act to follow. I recommend it for the fine quality of the storytelling as well as the overall decency of it.

Have you read Virgil Wander? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

  1. I somehow missed Peace Like a River so off to find both books. Your review is intriguing. Sounds like you had to avoid spoilers but you still gave the flavor of the book. I finally got Where the Crawdads Sing after a long wait on the library’s list. And I got another book after a long wait–Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. So trying to read them at the same time before I have to turn them back in. Loved your review of Crawdads. If you have not read Infidel, it is a must read, an excellent memoir by a fascinating woman.

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    • Hi Deb! Timing those library holds is an art form, isn’t it? Please let me know what you think of all three books. And thanks for the recommendation! I know a little bit about Ayaan Hirsi Ali and she seems like a brave and interesting woman. I will definitely add Infidel to my list!

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  2. Hi Michelle! Your review was timely as I just finished Virgil Wander last night! I am also a fan of Leif Enger and Virgil Wander did not disappoint. However, I agree that Peace Like a River is still Enger’s best book. Did you also read So Brave, Young and Handsome? I generally am skeptical of subsequent books written by authors whose first book I really enjoy as I am usually disappointed (with the exception of Khaled Hosseini) and I would say Enger’s second book fell short for me. But, Virgil Wander was a rebound in my mind. I enjoyed all the characters as they somehow form a sort of quirky but caring family when all they really have in common is their small town. I am not great with interpreting imagery in literature, but think that peeling back layers in this book would reveal many different messages. What did the different kites mean? How about the larger than life sturgeon? And the man that Virgil kept seeing? I often feel like I am not worthy of some of the books that I read because the author has spent so much effort in telling me a story in a story that I completely miss!

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    • Hi Molly! It seems that you, George and I have very similar taste in books! I’m sure there was symbolism galore in this novel, but it would take a couple of glasses of wine to relax my rigid, literal brain enough to identify and appreciate them. This would be a good book club pick because there’s lots to discuss. Thanks for commenting!

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