Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
First of all, I must say: the language in this novel is beyond beautiful. Poetic. Stunning. I mean, I would happily choose a random page and just read a few sentences because I know I’d find a lovely one on every page. I’d compare the language to a milk dud. Delicious, long-lasting, might get stuck in your teeth.
Here’s a small example: “Despite my confusion I liked [the doctor] immediately. He had the heartening bulk of the aging athlete defeated by pastry.” I mean, it’s such a great description, am I right? Who cannot picture this guy? Also, we totally get the concept of defeat by pastry. 🙂 OK, maybe that’s all me.
Because of a brain injury, our main character has a hard time finding appropriate adjectives when he speaks during his recovery. As the story proceeds, his vocabulary expands and it’s great fun to cheer him on! (Yes, I’m a word geek, but you knew that, right?) Here’s another great passage as he talks to a female friend about his recuperation:
“I’m still fairly far reduced. I may never be unabridged again.”
“None of us are unabridged, as you are well aware. She leaned back and looked me in the face. “Worthy adjective, by the way.”
“Thanks, I was saving it.”
Sigh. I guess I love words so much, I even love when the fictional characters talk about the words that the excellent author wrote for them to say.
This is a small story. It’s not epic or sweeping. It’s the story of a man who almost dies, and then he bounces back, better than he was before. The story arc of the small town he lives in is much the same. Bonus: the town is on the north shore in MN, on Lake Superior.
Some of my favorite things about this story? The old Norweigian. The townspeople discussing local lore. Kites. Unrequited and requited love. An old movie theater. See? The story is about normal, small things. Also, some big things happen to small people, but the story hinges on characters – and believe me, there are some awesome, quirky characters!!!!
The town is easy to visualize. It’s quaint. It’s also debilitated, something most of us have seen. The people are people you know in your own town, except some of them are better and some of them are worse. The key to this novel, though, is that it’s threaded through with heart. We all need a kick in the butt sometimes, and the title character gets just that when his life is saved. And after his life is saved, he sets about salvaging that life.
We none of us want the brush with death, but we all desire a better version of ourselves. A braver version. Stronger. This novel makes it seem possible for even such a one as I (And you And they).
Who will like this book? Minnesotans—for sure. Most midwesterners, former and current. Those who love a literary yarn. People who like words (you may need to hit the dictionary with this book in hand, I did!) It’s folksy and intelligent at the same time, and deeper than you thought it would be upon cracking the spine.
Want to check it out? Click here.
Content: pretty clean!