Peace Like a River

by Leif Enger
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How did Leif Enger in Peace Like a River take the non-universal experience of hunting in the freezing cold and render it a universal “moment”?  

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Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, follows the Land family on an extraordinary journey. The family consists of Jeremiah Land and his three children: Davy, Reuben, and his daughter Swede. They live in the rather rustic north, and the three children go goose-hunting early one morning and then come home for a bit. Reuben says:

That's how goose-hunting is--you rise early and do the cold, thrilling work; then come in and eat; then fatigue sneaks up and knocks you flat.

After they are rested, the three kids go hunting again that "afternoon, under skies so cold frost paisleyed the gunbarrels." Davy lets Swede, desperate to shoot a goose, take the first shot. As an older brother, he is patient and allows her to fail before stepping in and killing the escaping bird. Their hunting trip is successful.

It is fair to assume that not many people have gone hunting on a frigid morning or even an afternoon when it was so cold that guns frost over; as you say, it is a "non-universal experience." While this is not an extraordinary event for the Lands, what makes the scene universal is the companionship and cooperation of family to accomplish a goal.

Getting up early to do something together, then coming home and taking a nap before doing the next thing, is something most of us can understand and have experienced. Enger is able to take an out-of-the-ordinary experience and make it ordinary and universal by connecting it to something his readers have experienced.


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