“Greenstone was full of people who could make you sad just by strolling into view.”
Virgil Wander, Leif Enger’s eponymous new novel, is set in the hard-luck town of Greenstone, Minnesota along the stormy northern shores of Lake Superior. Although the town and its people have seen better days, together they muddle through by supporting each other as they did when Virgil’s car drove off a cliff and into the depths of the frigid lake. Saved by Marcus, the owner of the junk yard, and nursed back to health by a motley crew of villagers, Virgil’s slow recovery is the canvas on which Enger illustrates the town’s reaction when a stranger comes to town. Rune has come from Norway to find the son he never knew he had, and his presence and search for his son bring out something different in almost everyone in town. This was the feel-good book I needed to read to be reminded of the basic goodness of human beings.
Virgil Wander reminded me of Elizabeth Strout’s small Illinois towns and her salt-of-the-earth folks whose lives are inextricably connected to their environment, for better or worse but usually worse. Also like Strout’s books, this is a beautifully written book about characters I came to care about. If you like fast-paced page-turners, this book might not be for you but if you like a book which allows you to move into it and live amongst the characters, you’ll certainly enjoy reading Virgil Wander. (And if you enjoy this one, be sure to read his earlier book Peace Like a River, one of my top ten favorite books of all time.)