Virgil Wander

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

A slow-building tale about a small town on a great lake and man (Virgil Wander) who is reclaiming his life after a near-death experience. The writing is beautiful—the lake and weather become real characters in the story and a thread of the mysterious is woven in, leaving the reader feeling a bit unsure at times of the reality of what is happening to Virgil and his fellow town folk (rather like Virgil's own perceptions as he recovers from traumatic brain injury.)

Highly recommend this book. It's rather spell-binding.
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Unfortunately I’ve read a few books since I read this book, so I am not going to do it the justice it deserves!  I meant to review it immediately upon finishing it because I loved it so much, but then got distracted. 

I loved this book from the first sentence to the last sentence.  I loved the characters and the setting, which was almost a character itself. 

The main character of the story is Virgil Wander.  Virgil lives in Greenstone, Minnesota and he owns a run down movie theatre.  Virgil is unique in many ways, the most notable is that he is recovering from a serious concussion that he suffered after his car flew off the road into icy Lake Superior.  It left him with his memory and language a bit altered, but slowly coming back to him. 

Surrounding Virgil are a cast of wonderful, quirky characters.  I hesitate to mention them specifically, because I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out, they are all so well developed and add so much to the story. 

I wish I could put into words how wonderful this novel is, if only I could speak as eloquently about it as the writer writes.  It is beautifully written, lovely attention to detail.  It meanders at it’s own pace, drawing you into the town and it’s people.  I cared about each and every character, the town, the movie theatre…everything. 

Highly recommend. 

I received an ARC of the book.
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Virgil Wander captured me from the first three paragraphs with its wry and gentle prose. It’s narrated by the title character, Virgil Wander, who has a very contrary name for a man who stays very close to home. His home is Greenstone, a town that seems to be on the receiving end of some karmic bad joke, so much so they decide to embrace their bad fortune with a Hard Luck Days festival. There is a loving acceptance of the curmudgeons and oddballs that strikes this former Minnesotan as absolutely authentic but may seem false to someone who didn’t grow up in the kind of communities that inspired Lake Wobegon.

Virgil is suffering some dislocation from an accident that should have killed him, driving off the North Shore Highway, he and his car shooting through the air and falling deep into Lake Superior. However, he was saved and now has some trouble with adjectives and balance. The serendipitous arrival of Rune, the unknown father of Alec Sandstrom, local baseball hero whose mysterious disappearance haunts Greenstone and its inhabitants. Alec was Virgil’s friend and since he really needs someone to stay with him in his forgetfulness, he invites Rune to stay with him.

This is a magical realist book. The realism is the slowly dying Greenstone, the impoverishment of failed industry, and how that breakdown manifests in people’s lives, their despair and desperation. The magic is manifested in Rune and his kites, the giant sturgeon who seems an active and knowing antagonist, the strangely malevolent Adam Leer who doesn’t overtly do or say anything untoward while leaving disaster in his wake.

I enjoyed  Virgil Wander so much, though when I think on it after finishing, I realize that I loved it because I fell for the characters, especially for Virgil, Rune, and Bjorn, Rune’s grandson, and the wryly evocative language. In hindsight, the story is very much on the surface, sliding past being consequential with a smile. Usually, with so much talent and imagination, there’s a deeper story to tell. This is not deep, but it sure is fun.

I received a copy of Virgil Wander from the publisher through NetGalley.

Virgil Wander at Grove Atlantic
Leif Enger author site
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A big hearted & a bit of a long winded story about community.
This book has a ton of sub-plots saved by the characters.
Readers who enjoy a slow burn will probably enjoy this one but readers who need action may lose interest.
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I was absolutely thrilled to receive a copy of Leif Enger’s latest novel.  Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.   I really enjoy the lyrical quality of Enger’s writing and this one did not disappoint.  This is a gentle story and one the reader needs to take their time reading and savoring.  This is the story of Virgil Wander and his life after he suffers a traumatic brain injury.  It takes place in the upper Midwest in Minnesota, and is filled with a cast of quirky characters who come together to help each other.  This story will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.  3.5 stars
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A story that had many different twists and turns in it.  It is a deep meaning but very well written story of survival and hard knocks. Leif is a new author to me whom I can't wait to read others from this author.
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3.5 rounded up to 4 stars
This is one of those books that I found extremely difficult to rate, as there were many things I enjoyed about the book, yet at the same time, there were also moments where I struggled and thought about giving up on this one and moving on to other more productive reads.  A few of the things I loved about this book:  the writing, which was gorgeous and masterful and flowed so easily that I got swept up in it from the first page; the characters, all of whom were quirky yet endearing in their own ways – these were characters I fell for, cared about, and wanted to spend time with, which also meant that I was saddened to have to let them go when I reached the end of the book;  the “intelligent humor” mentioned in the book’s summary -- which took me by surprise at first given the undertones of sadness and wistfulness I seemed to sense in the story -- but then I quickly grew to love once I got to know the characters more and began to understand the dynamics of this small, close-knit Midwestern community; and finally, the storytelling, which felt both whimsical and smart – there were times where I felt I was reading a work of art rather than an actual book (if that makes any sense).
With all that said, the one thing I wasn’t too keen on was the story itself – or more specifically, the lack of a cohesive plot.  Not much happens in the story, which was extremely slow-going and there was not much there to really move the story along.  In a way, this story was more a series of vignettes where we are provided  glimpses into the daily lives of various characters and get to witness them doing the most ordinary of things – watching a movie, cleaning a theatre, flying a kite, etc.  There were many moments while reading where I felt like I wanted more, though exactly more of what was hard to pinpoint at times.  Perhaps I was expecting the story to be more engaging, or maybe it just wasn’t the right time for me to read this book, as I already knew I wouldn’t have large swathes of time to devote to reading right now due to work and things going on in my personal life – this is the type of book that requires quite a bit of patience and concentration and also needs to be read in one go rather than broken up between other tasks.  I did the latter and ended up struggling through, to the point that there were times when I had to put the book down to attend to other things but then didn’t feel like picking it back up afterwards.  I think if I had read this one in fewer sittings, over a longer, more focused time period, it would have felt less scattered and most likely I would’ve felt differently about it.  This is why I decided to round up to 4 stars on this one, as I feel that, under different circumstances, this would definitely have been a 4 star (or above) read for me (and the fact that there truly were quite a few things I liked about the book, of course).
Overall, I would definitely recommend this one, though with the caveat that you need to be in the right mood to read it and also be able to devote the time and focus to it that it deserves.  At some point down the line, I do intend on reading some of this author’s other works as well, since I’ve heard so many great things about a few of them.  And if he decides to write another novel in the future, I would want to read that as well – hopefully we don’t have to wait another 10 years for it though!
Received ARC from Grove Press via NetGalley
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A story that pulls you into the Minnesota town of Greenstone and it's quirky inhabitants.  Virgil Wander lives in Greenstone.  After a car accident leaves him injured and lucky to be alive, Virgil must relearn who he is and how he fits into his community.  As the owner of the local movie theater, Virgil literally learns his life's story by watching the realtime movie of his life.  As you read, you'll feel the emotions of the characters as if you're there with them.  The author has done an excellent job of making you feel part of the story.
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Where do I begin?
How do I began?
I finished this book couple weeks ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The story still stayed with me up to today. do I put this into words?  How do I put this eloquently without boring anyone?  If I tried to put this on papers, my trashcan would be overflowing with crumpled papers with crossed out sentences, disappointing words, and self failures.  This book is one of the few rarities which has me loss for the words to totally describe how I felt about this book.  

First of all, as I was reading this book, an oldie popped in my head,  'Small Town by John Mellencamp.  This song described this book perfectly well.
Moving on....This is a whimsical journey of a movie house owner who survived a freak car accident/drowning in icy lake, piecing together his own personal history.  Even though his memory and language impaired, he pushes on with his life with sarcasm and subtle humor. 
It isn't just all about Virgil.  It's about the community he lives in. The small town full of quirky and awkward people. The name of the Midwestern town is Greenstone.
There is a magical realism to Greenstone. There's something mystical about this small town along with loyalty, friendship, love, and redemption. What connects the town and its residents are the hope and the strangeness of all.  Ah, the redemption...the redemption...there's no further words for that.  It is enchanting novel to be embraced for years to come. I would love to read more book by this gifted storyteller in the future. It is one of the rare books which sits with you for a long time.
Now excuse me while I go and listen to the rest of the song of 'Small Town'.

I recieved this enchanting ARC from Grove Atlantic Grove Press through Net Galley in exchange for my unbiased and honest review.  Thank you !
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Virgil Wander
I sometimes struggle with literary, character driven fiction. Leif Enger is an author I can connect with. I love his writing style. Not a lot happens action wise in this book, but the characters grow and change through out. This was a perfect fall read with it's small town, Midwest setting. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of review.
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I was quite pleased to receive an advance review copy of Leif Enger's new book! While the author's well-known predecessor Peace Like a River had much more action in many sections, this one had all the charm, quirks, and endearing characters. Literary fiction lovers and Midwesterners will love it!
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I waited a long time for Mr.Enger.  I must admit it took me a long time to get into this book. After three fall starts, I finally read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It had great characters, although the plot didn't seem to exist. That being said I would certainly recommend this to one of my friends
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Leif Enger writes Minnesota so well I haven't lived there in over a decade, but it will always be home to me. This book makes me homesick in the weirdest ways. He captures the essence of the area so subtly, but authentically. 

I savored his latest release, Virgil Wander, named for the main character who loses parts of his memory in a car accident. I think that readers who enjoy small town stories will love this, as will homesick Midwesterners.

Thank you to NetGalley for the review copy.
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Virgil Wander lives in Greenstone, Minnesota, a town with little to offer and even fewer prospects for the future. The inhabitants are good natured but quirky. In fact most are quirky.
Virgil, the owner of the local movie theater, claims to be “cruising at medium attitude, aspiring vaguely to decency.” But life is altered when Virgil loses control of his Pontiac during a sudden snowstorm and plunges into Lake Superior. Saved by a fellow townsman, Virgil learns he has a mild traumatic brain injury.  This is the beginning of our journey through Greenstone and the introduction to its inhabitants. All these people seem to be good natured transplants from Lake Wobegon. The people long for the past golden hay days of the town and believe that a festival called Hard Luck Days can be the instrument of their revival.
As Virgil recovers from his trauma and attempts to rediscover himself, he meets Rune, a man looking for information about a son he never knew.  He investigates by flying kites. I wondered if some insight into the meaning of life would be revealed but no it was about how to build and fly kites.
Several more interactions or described but little insight is garnered. Finally all issues are explained and resolved in the final pages of the book. Unfortunately the ending is too neat and contrived.
This book felt like a collection of vignettes, not like a well constructed novel. Long descriptions do not equal a well structured plot development. This was an unfulfilling reading.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. #netgalley #virgilwander
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Virgil Wander is a quirky novel about life in a Minnesota small town that is close to the last gasp of life. More than that it's a nostalgic look at a way of life that's almost lost in America, small town living. It paints a picture of life in this country that died sometime in the 1970's. Towns from coast to coast where neighbor knew neighbor well, residents knew who all other residents were and children were safe without an adult hovering over them. It actually made me reminisce and pine for my childhood.

The novel opens with Virgil driving in a snow storm, flying off a cliff and heading toward the icy waters of Lake Superior. Saved by the town junk dealer who just happened to be beachcombing at the time Virgil survives with some strange memory and sensory problems.

While acclimating to life after the accident Virgil takes the reader on a tour of Greenstone meeting all the residents and observing life in a small town on the cusp of oblivion. It's a town and people who won't go quietly but will do everything possible to survive progress and a loss of industry.

This is a book with a storyline that's hard to describe. The story is there and is solid but it meanders and roams around Greenstone and the people who live there. It's seen through Virgil's eye's as he tries to process his life anew because nothing is quite the same since his accident. 

The character development is fantastic. Even the long dead town hero comes alive. There are a lot of characters, all eccentric in their own way, all well fleshed out and most really likable. The reader learns a lot as they relate to Virgil. It's an American sampler of old small town residents who all care for one another.

I recommend this book. If you are old enough to remember life before and during the seventies and lived in a small town you'll see it in quirky Greenstone. You'll also recognize people from your past. If you aren't old enough to remember those times this book will show you exactly why your parents and grandparents long for "the good old days." It truely is a masterfully crafted picture of small town America as portrayed by Norman Rockwell.

I received a free copy of this book and voluntarily reviewed it.
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Leif Enger garnered much praise for his lyrical novel Peace Like a River; I had the opportunity to teach it in my freshman English class. When So Brave, Young, and Handsome was published, it fell flat for me, but I was cautiously optimistic when I learned Enger was coming out with a new novel this fall.

Virgil Wander was a pleasure to read. Its title character has a near-death experience, one that changes the course of his life. His previously lonely but comfortable existence is altered on every level.

With Enger's characteristic finesse, Virgil Wander is a lovely, entertaining read. Enger has managed to create a town filled with personalities that come alive, a vivid place that I would love to explore. I'd start in the cafe, then spend a few hours flying spectacular kites with Rune, and conclude with a movie at the Empress Theater. The humor can be tongue-in-cheek, and I couldn't help but be amused as the run-down town finally settles on a theme for their annual celebration (no spoilers from me). Themes of friendship, family, and belonging are prevalent, and there are mysterious incidents and visions, and readers are left piecing together what is real and what is a side effect of Virgil's injuries.

Enger does not disappoint with this newest novel. It can't edge out Peace Like a River, one of my favorite books, but it is a beautifully written, engaging read that I genuinely loved and see myself returning to and enjoying again and again.

(I received a digital ARC from NetGalley and Grove Press in exchange for my honest review.)
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Loved this book.  I had read “Peace Like a River” previously and loved it.  This book was no exception.  I loved all of the quirky characters, their stories, and their relationships with each other.  I loved the town.  A must read!  Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Press for the advanced copy and the opportunity to review.
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Greenstone, Minnesota is a hard luck little town. Once known for its taconite mines it has settled into a slow decline when Virgil Wander’s car goes over a cliff and into the lake one night in the midst of an unexpected snowstorm. He’s only alive because the local junkman was on the shore, dove in and saved him, but he suffers brain trauma that leaves him with vertigo, an aversion to loud noises, and the loss of adjectives in his vocabulary. He’s the main character in Leif Enger’s eponymous novel, Virgil Wander, and what happens to him and the rest of Greenstone makes for a quirky but penetrating novel told in a similar way as two other authors I love, Kent Haruf, for the quiet, simple prose and Brian Doyle, for the magical realism that perfectly meshes the magical found in the real.

Shortly after Virgil’s accident two newcomers appear in Greenstone. Actually, only one is new—Rune, an older man who has come to meet the son he never knew he had, except that son is gone. Disappeared after taking off in a small plane for a routine jaunt. Rune has a love of kites, amazing marvels he makes himself and that draw everyone in town to him and to flying them. For each, it is an act that brings clarity and peace and for Virgil, especially, it calms the jitters in his brain that leave him feeling he is living someone else’s life.

…the kite string hummed like a prayer in my head, I had access to stories not remembered in years.

The other new presence is someone who grew up in Greenstone, but left long ago. Adam Leer is the opposite of Rune. His calmness creates anxiety and a sense of danger. Outwardly, he is a man of money offering jobs to locals and trying to have a second act in his hometown, but inside him is a much darker cloud.

It can’t be too surprising that a novel set in Minnesota, with its sub-zero temperatures and months of darkness covered in mounds of snow, lends itself to the unusual. Enger uses this to great effect, lightly sprinkling the unexpected throughout Virgil Wander—whether it’s the raven that follows Rune and sits on his shoulder or the fact that what appears to be a tree later unfolds to reveal Adam. In the same way, he folds in elements of whimsy and darkness that don’t feel out of place: Virgil has a cache of old Hollywood films he plays in the ratty theater he owns, a 10-year-old boy engages in a battle with a monstrous sturgeon who killed his father, and the mayor exchanges Christmas cards with Bob Dylan.

None of this detracts from what is, at its heart, a simple novel about what we love and lose, growing old, giving up, and starting over. Enger applies this both to his characters and to the setting of Greenstone, which has been beset with bad luck for a generation now and seems destined to shut down completely. He is a capable guide as Virgil strives to recapture his balance and sense of self, bringing not only the wisdom of the elderly into Virgil’s life, but the often-overlooked lessons of youth. When Virgil hires a teenage boy to help in the theater he realizes

"What I suddenly missed, as Bjorn talked away, was the easy arrival of interests. Of obsessions. I remembered stumbling onto things I loved, almost by accident—it used to happen a lot."

Until reading those lines I’d forgotten the time in life when everything was worth a try. Being reminded is one of the ways Virgil Wander hits its mark. There are misses as well, when the plot expanded more than I needed, but mostly, I marvel at how Enger shared life lessons through Virgil without making them feel like a greeting card. Instead, the novel is tender-hearted and expansive—welcome reading as the days grow shorter, grayer, and colder.
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Leif Enger is a storyteller, and a quite good one at that. His latest novel, "Virgil Wander," is a story that captures the spirit of individualism, the essence of community and the power of companionship. Basically, those are fancy words to describe one of the most entertaining novels I've come across in a long time.

Virgil Wander owns, and lives above, a movie theater in a small town in Michigan. After his car flies off a road into Lake Superior, Virgil is rescued by one of the towns many "characters." As Virgil mends his body and soul, he learns that there is so much more to life than he had previously experienced. By opening his eyes and mind, his life changes - for the better. 

He welcomes a kite-flying foreigner determined to learn about a disappeared son. His romance with Nadine, the wife of the missing man, blossoms, while he helps another family cope with the death of a father determined to catch a sturgeon. There also are old friends, new friends, a secret cache of movies and the vision of a man walking on water.

All the characters come together in an entertaining look at small-town life and the variety of characters cast into humorous, yet touching, circumstances.. Thanks to Enger's storytelling skills, there's never a dull moment for Virgil Wander or the readers of this delightful novel.
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This beautifully written book made me feel like I used to feel when visiting my grandparents in their small Nebraska town.  Enger has painted a vivid picture of a town and its people that made me wish I could go there for a visit.  The writing is exquisite and the characters  are real and sympathetic.  This is a book people will want to read - and then read again.
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