Virgil Wander

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

Reading Virgil Wander felt familiar the cast of characters in a small town felt like the type of people who would inhabit a place like this. It was overall a great reading experience and I felt as if I was transported there, I really enjoyed getting a peek into this fictional place.
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This was a book that I was really excited to read based on so many wonderful reviews out there, but as we all know not every book is for everyone. Bottom line is I found the book boring. Nothing happened. I kept waiting for something, anything and it ended just like it began with nothing exciting. We didn't even get to at least experience the events leading up to the car accident which I think would have added backstory to what was going on and how his personality had changed. If you want to read about mundane everyday life then maybe this is the book for you but it wasn't for me.
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I hate that Enger takes so long between books.  The style of writing, similar to Peter Heller, is great.  The story in this one, while different from Peace Like a River, was still on par with his previous books.  Maybe this is a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, but I hope he continues to write as each of his books is better than the last.
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4 solid stars

Characters - incredibly interesting and becomingly weird 4.5
Writing - Outstanding - 5
Story/ plot - 3 (It was probably better than this, just don't read it in a disjointed way between Thanksgiving and New Years. Also - an odd twist at the end, that I'm not sure fit in with the rest.)
Imagination - 3.5 - 4.5 It depends on what you like. I'm not a fan of magical realism. (I'd rather play Mozart than Impressionistic pieces.)

Misc. - The kites were fantastic. I want a movie. I could see the old movie house in the small town that was past its glory days. I knew a few of the characters.

Thanks to Net Galley for an ARC of this book.
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4.5 stars
“I couldn’t nail down what had changed in the apartment. To begin with, it seemed to belong to someone else. This made a kind of sense—my perceptions had shifted, just as Dr. Koskinen said.
. . . 
Bending down I saw my two pale ankles sticking out of my shoes. I’d forgotten socks. Dr. Koskinen said I might forget to turn off the faucet, might gas myself somehow, set my sleeves on fire. He wasn’t thrilled I lived alone.”

Virgil Wander is an unusual name and an unusual fellow because he lives upstairs from, and devotes himself to, an old movie theatre (the Empress) in a frost-bitten town on Lake Superior, and he sells maybe half a dozen tickets a night. When the book opens, he’s been rescued, freezing, from his car, which plunged into the Lake. As a result, his brain and his memory have taken a bit of a bashing.

I was reading this at the same time as I was beginning a book, "Tacking on the Styx: An Epileptic Sails the Facts, Fiction and Philosophy of a Mental Illness", about a man with epilepsy, and the similarities between him and Virgil were very much the same in some places. The opening quotation was from Virgil, fresh out of hospital. He has to work out how to deal with the blanks in his memory.

“But as my bones settled on the mattress, a notion crept in. A short sentence appeared in my mind implying I could go ahead and wear those shirts. I could paint the walls, sell the furniture, throw out the candle. I could do whatever I liked with the building, for one simple reason. The previous tenant was dead. Poor Virgil didn’t actually make it. I popped off the mattress and pulled on shoes. They didn’t seem like my shoes exactly. They resisted my hands and feet. I pulled them on anyway and got away from there.”

The previous tenant was dead. But the rest of the town doesn’t quite know how to deal with him. He’s having trouble with loud sounds (same as epilepsy, migraines, etc.)

“. . . a bad concussion jangles everything. My mind was not clear. His gentle baritone came at me like elbows.”

I have an abiding curiosity about brain function, enhancement, impairment, and when a skilled author can work it into a fanciful, yet believable, tale, I love it. 

And another thing. There’s an old Scandinavian guy, Rune, who appears in town and makes and flies amazing kites. I went to a place once where kite-flying competitions were popular, and it was fantastic! This was students and adults, and being awkward enough (or mean enough!) to cross and cut someone else’s string was cause for war, or at least stern confrontation. You work for hours, days creating one, and then it crashes. Or in Rune’s case, it would skitter away down Lake Superior and probably drown.

There is a long story with many threads and many characters, broken in their own ways, and it takes Virgil time to piece it all together. He gets involved an old mystery about a man who disappeared, he has a gnawing worry about the future of the Empress and his films, and meanwhile, he is pressed to take part in a project to make the small town financially viable. 

And it’s freezing! I don’t know how people live so cold, especially if they go out to fly kites by an icy lake! Virgil occasionally hallucinates. But it soothes him.

“Flying it I felt my Empress panic subside. Hither and yon it zipped across the bright cold sky, wheels spinning with a lively purr that came down into my fingers. I let out more line. A buoyancy expanded in my chest and I seemed to rise toward a small cumulous cloud scudding toward the province of Ontario. The cloud misted me with a greeting and went on its way. A brace of late snow geese moved south along the shoreline; their black wing tips whistled as they passed.”

I very much enjoy the way Enger has put his imagination on the page. He neatly connects the characters from several side stories and ties up most of the loose ends, while leaving us with something to mull over at the end. I liked the new Virgil Wander, occasional hallucinations and all, but I think I would have found “the previous tenant” a bit timid and colourless. The new one is having a lot more fun.

Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted. 
#NetGalley #VirgilWander
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Virgil Wander by Leif Enger is the author’s first book ten years after writing his award winning novel Peace Like a River. Here, the author examines a small midwestern town and it’s cast of broken characters. This is not an easy read. It is actually a pretty slow read. However, the ability to stick with this novel will be rewarding. Leif Enger is a talented storyteller. I highly recommend this book. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher with no obligations. These opinions are entirely my own.
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Fiction
Adult
It doesn’t often happen that I thoroughly enjoy a book until about the 90% point, but that’s what happened here. Virgil is a cinemaphile living above the Empress Theatre in the small Minnesota town of Greenstone, where he also works as a part-time city clerk. Things are on a downturn in Greenstone since the mine and the taconite plant closed, despite its picturesque location on the banks of Lake Superior. The book opens as Virgil is recovering from a concussion sustained when his car skidded on an icy road into the lake. He should have died – more than a few people thought he did, in fact – but was saved by a passing beachcomber. Recovery is slow – faces are initially unfamiliar, and words are missing from his vocabulary.
When he returns home, nothing seems right, leading Virgil to refer to his pre-accident self as “the previous tenant.” In addition to Virgil, the other main character in this book is a missing man, a baseball pitcher named Alec Sandstrom who disappeared some 10 years ago while flying a small plane over the lake. Still living in Greenstone are his wife Nadine and son Bjorn, now a teenager. Alec’s long-lost father, a Norwegian kitemaker named Rune, also makes an appearance. The writing in this novel features a delightfully dry kind of humour: Beset by interrupted sleep after the accident, Virgil describes the morning after sharing a meal and drinks with Rune: “On second waking I was greeted by a muscular hangover that adjusted its claws for a better grip whenever I turned my head.” Even the short lines delight: “No corpse is as dead as unlit neon.” Film buffs will enjoy the many references to movies both popular and obscure, such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a young Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers, “a little Jack Black comedy about amateur bird-watchers” (The Big Year), and Midnight in Paris. “Everyone has their favorite Woody Allens, and mine are the ones without Woody in them.” Me too, dude!! I’m still laughing. So, pretty good, right? Yes, except that author Enger seems to realize at some point he doesn’t have much of a plot, and creates a really silly one, that suddenly appears in the final pages. While the ending disappointed me, I am still a fan of the book’s great writing. My thanks to Grove Press for the advance reading copy provided digitally through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. You can also find a copy of it at our local Grand Forks & District Public Library.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39027388
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A little pretentious, with a bit of whimsy, a bit of a meandering plot, but overall ok. Not a favorite, but I don't regret I read it. I think I can conclude that Leif Enger is a strong writer and his stories are solid, but I might not be the reader for them. This just didn't have that something I was looking for and I feel like it was a bit forgettable. 
However, for someone else it might be perfect. Think charming, quickly, maybe somewhat self important.
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I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley.

This book is reminiscent of Fannie Flagg's novels. The story, set in a small "past-prime" mid-western town, is character-driven. There are many people in the book whom you would like to meet and some, of course, you would avoid at all costs. The book is charming and well worth the read.
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Thank you NetGalley and publishers for an electronic copy of this novel for preview.  I enjoyed the quirky characters in this novel, but found myself "distracted reading" because the plot did not keep me engaged.  Overall, the story was good, just a little too slow moving for my tastes.
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I liked the idea of this story but I found myself skimming parts of the book.  Set in a small midwestern town that has seen better days, Virgil has a car accident and has a brain injury that changes the way he sees life.  With the help of his friend, Rune, and many of the town's residents Virgil comes home from the hospital and begins to heal.  I think fans of small town dramas with no psychological twists will enjoy this book.  It looks at small town life through the eyes of an older man who thinks life has passed him by.  I received a copy of this ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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I really wanted to enjoy this book and, to an extent, I did. I liked Enger's previous novel and the premise of 'Virgil Wander' sounded good. However, I didn't really warm to it - perhaps it's the fact that some of the symbolism (the pike, for example) seemed a bit futile and lost, maybe on me and not others. But also, I found the characters too wooden, perhaps two-dimensional, and I wanted more.

The novel is about Virgil Wander and his life in Greenstone, Minnesota - a forgotten town on Lake Superior that has seen better days. It starts with flashbacks to his bar nearly sinking in the frozen lake after a freak accident, as well as Virgil nearly losing his life. So, he's given another chance and the references to this at the beginning are interesting. He owns and runs the town's movie theatre, albeit one that is failing. We see the characters of the town; those that come and go; people who have moved on and some who haven't. Towards the end, we learn about Jerry Fandeen's attempt to destroy the town - a message about our modern times, perhaps.

It's a shame that I didn't warm to this novel more. I enjoy domestic dramas and character-driven plots. 'Virgil Wander' is missing a lot of this but I realise that such interpretations are relative and others may love it.
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Virgil Wander is a great character. This book centers around him, surviving an odd incident and finding a new normal for himself. The story is told around the idea of a mystery that has puzzled this drained little town for years. Virgil's life intersects with many townspeople, he develops closer relationships with some and we learn a little about what makes various characters tick.

Is this a book full of relatable feelings? Yes.  Does great writing carry it? Yes.  Did I like it?  Ummm. meh.

I came away feeling similar to how I would feel before entering my current relationship, when I would go out on a date with a "nice guy". I'd say "he's nice, he's got a good job, he's attractive enough...I should like him, I wish I liked him, but I feel nothing. I was bored."

I loved Virgil, how he was so aware of his truths - good and bad. I loved how kind, compassionate, and accepting he was of others.  And I think because of that I stayed interested enough to keep going. But when I realized I was at 80% (after reading this book here are there over about 5 weeks) and felt like nothing had really happened yet, I had to question why I was still reading.

The cover is beautiful, the writing is quality. There is something there.  This just isn't the type of book that does it for me. I like more action, or more grit, more wow, more humor...just more of something.  That said, if you like a slow read about a sleepy town full of quirky, flawed characters and unsure relationships, this is definitely a quality read.

If  I was rating on plot and interest for me, I'd give it 2 stars, but the great writing and something so loving that comes off those pages about the characters compelled me to rate up.


I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest interview.
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Peace Like a River is one of my favorite books, so I was very excited to read Virgil Wander. It started out great and  Leif Enger's prose is still just as gorgeous as it was a decade ago; however, two months later, I've struggled to read the book and finally finish it. I almost DNFd on many occasions but I kept persevering while reading about 10 other books in the meantime. The book just meandered all over the place for me at times and there was so much info about other characters that I felt it drew attention away from the plot. It just wasn't the book for me. I'm giving it two stars for the gorgeous writing although I didn't enjoy it at all. I will not be posting my review to my blog since it is my policy not to post reviews of books that I rate below 3 Stars. 

Thank you NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the opportunity to read the ARC in exchange for my fair and honest review.
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It was worth 10 years of waiting for Virgil Wander - I loved this book.  This is a story to read slowly and enjoy the quirky characters and beautiful scenery of the Duluth area of Minnesota.
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Virgil Wander (yes, that's the main character's name) thinks his "world began reorganizing itself" the day a stranger, Rune Eliassen, turned up in town--but I'm pretty sure the sea change in Virgil's life really began when he found himself launched off Highway 61 on a snowy autumn day, arcing over the guardrails and straight into Lake Superior. He doesn't remember the accident, but he was told Marcus Jetty had been beach combing along the shore and managed to pull Virgil out before he sank to the bottom with his car.

In fact, though,Virgil's memory is sketchy. He's had a mild traumatic brain injury which has left him with a monster of a headache. Virgil has also lost his adjectives. He misreads faces. His motor skills are shaky. And years of his life are hazy at best, missing at worst. But lucky for Virgil, he lives in Greenstone, Minnesota, a hard-luck town whose residents are good-hearted and loyal, if not also a rag-tag of a bunch.

There is the town drunk Shad Pea who drowns when a sturgeon pulls him under one night and his young son Galen who vows to avenge his father's death by catching the fish that killed him. There is the young widow Nadine, a tender and single-minded mother to her son Bjorn. Jerry Fandeen, a ne'er do well who straightens up and flies right--or so it seems until some explosives are involved--and his dynamo of a wife, Ann, who works with Virgil in the mayor's office. A domesticated raccoon named Genghis who runs away and is the likely source of a rabies outbreak. And, of course, a villain--Adam Leer.  Rumored to have killed his older brother, he left town at sixteen. Little is known about the life of this Hollywood director who has now returned to live quietly in the empty family home.

A small-town story like this might even stand on its own, but Virgil Wander is all the richer for that stranger I mentioned. Rune is the long-lost father of one of  Virgil's close friends, Alec Sandstrom, who disappeared over two decades ago--flew a private plane out over the lake and never returned. Alec, a minor league pitcher for the Duluth-Superior Dukes had a wicked fast ball. He was also something of a cut-up--another small town eccentric--and his disappearance haunted his friends and family. There had even been some rumored Sandstrom sightings in Ontario. Northern California. Idaho. And now here is a father he never even knew. A Norwegian, in fact, traveling thousands of miles to gather stories about a son he never even knew he had.

Rune is also a kite maker and his fantastical kites are what draw Greenstonians to him. The kites are large and elaborate and seem to have a life of their own. There was a stained glass window. A cloudberry pie. A bicycle and a catfish and a fireplace "with a crooked brick chimney and flames of loose orange that flapped in the wind ..." Because of Virgil's brain injury, his doctor recommends he have someone stay with him for awhile, which Virgil dismisses until he almost burns down his apartment over  the Empress, a movie theater he owns and runs. So it is Rune who comes to live with Virgil, and while one of the men tries to remember pieces of his life, the other tries to piece together a life he had never known. As their friendship deepens, Virgil finds himself much different from "the previous tenant" who inhabited his life. And so he builds a new life for himself, one in which puts aside his aimlessness and searches for purpose. Connection. And love.

But ohmygoodness it is the language in the novel that makes me swoon. The narrator speaks in  an oddly formal manner that endears him to the reader and, at the same time, adds to the story a mythical tone. Here's Virgil on recovering language after the accident:

Within weeks certain prodigal words started filtering home. They came one at a time or in shy small groups. I remember when sea-kindly showed up, a sentimental favorite, followed by desiccated and massive. Brusque appeared all by itself, which seemed apt ... this would be a good time to ask for your patience if I use an adjective too many now and then--even now, some years on, they're still returning.
And this when Virgil warns his love that the accident has forever changed him:

"You know what you're getting here, [Virgil] said. "I'm still fairly reduced. I may never be unabridged again."
Of course the fact that the novel is set in a Great Lakes state with the sand dunes and gales off the lake and unpredictable storms I love--it's all just too much. Much beauty. Much love. Much magic.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

When first starting Virgil Wander, I wondered if I was going to get through it..but I pushed on and was richly rewarded!  The writing is stellar, the plot touching and interesting. There's even some chuckles thrown in! The characters are wacky and whimsical and vary widely..and what make this book so interesting. While at first it may seem to drag it is just setting you up for the whirlwind to come so please don't give up on it! 5 stars!
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Virgil wander is a remarkale charachter - even his name as he doesn't go too far. It's a magical good old fashioned tale with great complimentary characters that you feel for and can easily imagine.
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We start out with Virgil's car going over the guardrail on the highway and into Lake Superior. Fortunately, someone was nearby to rescue him, but he suffered a bad concussion, and now has trouble remembering things- words are a problem, particularly adjectives. He's also having trouble remembering his life and the people around him, but all this trickles back over the course of the book. I don't want to describe too much of the plot- it's hard to describe, and tenuous, like Virgil's memory. The essence of the book is a man whose former self ("the previous tenant") has left for the most part, and now he must figure out who his new self is.
First, be warned- this is not a fast moving, action-packed story. Things move along at a slow pace, and may drag a bit in parts. I am not one who is bothered by this, I like a slow build, but some may get annoyed by it. The characters felt real to me; most are likeable, some more than others, as with any group of people. Some make you uneasy, some you feel bad for, some you want to hang out with. The small town vibe was quirky and enjoyable, and makes me want to visit the fictional Greenstone. There is a whisper of magic realism throughout the book: an old man who flies kites that have healing effects on the people he lets take over the string, a charismatic prodigal son with a feeling of malevolence about him, a sturgeon who may have killed a man and may now be after the man's son, storms that appear in a moment portending not so much doom as a feeling of "watch out." I quite enjoyed this book- the writing is lovely, evocative- some lines beg to be read aloud so you can taste them more fully. I'd recommend this story for when you want something quiet but satisfying. It sneaks up on you, and is hard to put down once you're in its grasp.
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VIRGIL WANDER by Leif Enger (Peace Like a River) was an October LibraryReads selection and could easily work as a Junior Theme choice given the publisher's description as a "timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart." Virgil's car runs off the road into Lake Superior near Greenstone, Minnesota and he suffers memory loss as a result. Virgil's subsequent and sometimes humorous interactions with residents (including a romantic interest, a best friend and newspaper editor, and a pet raccoon called Genghis) and also visitors (like Rune, a fan of kite flying who is looking for his long lost son) charmingly chronicles attempts at recovery for both Virgil and the town. VIRGIL WANDER received starred reviews from Library Journal ("surprises and delights throughout") and Booklist ("Virgil's narration is a joy: he lost his adjectives in the crash, making for their gleeful insertion each time he remembers one.").
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