Cover Image: Virgil Wander

Virgil Wander

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I've heard good things about Leif Enger,, however i dont think his writing style is for me. The characters were very good and very clear descriptions able to visualise
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This was a beautifully written book, such that its peacefulness was retained throughout the entire plot, even during times of disorder. I am a major fan of books with lots of description, but only if that description is taking me somewhere. The nature of this novel is to demonstrate the stagnation of this small town and all those who still reside within its empty borders. This was both the blessing and the curse of this novel. It was a little bit slow with unfortunately no real product to come out of it.
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The set-up of this novel reminds me very much of Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool: a small town where everybody seems to know everyone else, the town itself having seen better days and a central character being a well liked man who has yet to achieve anything of significance in his life. I really loved Russo’s book and I have to say that this one doesn't suffer too much by comparison. In this instance the town is called Greenstone and is situated on the shore of Lake Superior. It was once sustained by the mining and shipping of iron ore but now the taconite has run out there are few jobs to support the remaining inhabitants. 

We meet Virgil Wander as he is recovering from a major concussion. He’d driven his car off the road and into the lake and was lucky to have been rescued from his sinking car by a local who’d been out collecting recyclables on the shoreline. Virgil has been warned by his physician that his short-term memory would most likely be impacted and that other side-effects would, for a time, encroach on his life. As we monitor his early days following his release from hospital we start to see evidence of this. We also start to meet some of the people that Virgil routinely comes into contact with in his everyday life. 

But it takes a while for the more interesting characters to make an appearance. A film maker returns to take up residence in his large house that's been empty for some time and a unkempt fellow with a link to a missing local man makes Virgil’s acquaintance. These two will liven up this tale. As for the missing person, it seems that the one-time local sports star (and trained pilot) just took off in an aeroplane one day, never to return. Did the plane crash or has he made a new life for himself elsewhere? Nobody knows. The writing is excellent and I found myself being drawn deep into the lives of these people. I was routing for Virgil too, a decent man who rather seemed to have lost his way. Maybe the current changes wrought by the accident will offer an opportunity for Virgil to re-evaluate his life and maybe even re-invent himself? This book lacks the constant humour of Russo’s modern classic but it really does have a lot to offer. The town and its people are deftly brought to life and before I knew it I was at home in this place and starting to care about what will happen to them all. 

The intrigue here really centres around a few key questions:

-	To what extent will Virgil’s recovery (or lack of) influence what life has in store for him?
-	Who is the unkempt fellow and what is his link to this town?
-	What has brought the mysterious film maker back and how will his appearance impact others?
-	Will the mystery of the missing man be resolved?

To a large extent nothing much happens for the majority of this tale. The interest is sustained by the interactions between the key characters and the slow discovery of what matters most to these people. And therein lies the rub: how do you finish a story in which nothing of true significance has occurred? Well, you make something happen. And if I have one criticism of this book it’s that this element is the least satisfying component. It jarred, because I don't think it really fitted in with what had gone before - it felt like a hastily conceived add-on. In fact, I'd go as far as to say, the way the final section of the book is conceived – with many (but not all) of the loose ends being too neatly tied off - somewhat spoilt the experience for me. I just wish the author had gone in a different direction here.

My last comments aside, I’d encourage anyone who’s enjoyed Russo or similar character driven writers to give this one a try. Lief Enger is, I think, a real talent and I'm certainly encouraged to seek out more of his work.
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I am partial to a character-driven story set in small-town America, the Midwest in particular and, above all, in a cold climate.  This ticked all those boxes for me and was a real treat.  It reminded me of Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool to the extent that I could only see Paul Newman as the main character of this one too, not that that is by any means a bad thing.  Enger’s writing is much darker in tone, though, and is more subtly humorous, not at all in a slapstick way.

The characters are strong and engaging, struggling financially and emotionally in a town that has lost its purpose, several of them caught in a state of suspension between looking back and moving on.  Not least of these are the wife, son and best friend of a young man who disappeared mysteriously ten years earlier and whose father, Rune, makes an unexpected appearance in town, stirring up memories.  I enjoyed following him build tentative relationships with them all and was much taken with his kites, unusual in shape and aspect, and universally entrancing.  The surreal notion of a festival celebrating the hard luck endured by the town struck just the right note for me, as did the way events unfolded - some people do well, some not so well - not too neat and tidy.

I would have awarded 5 stars if it weren’t for the hints of the supernatural towards the end that jarred for me in an otherwise happy experience.  I hadn’t come across Leif Enger’s work before and am now on a mission to read his previous novels.
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This is a beautifully written book with likeable characters. It was just a little slow for me. I have a few friends who will love the descriptiveness and slowness of this story. I will be recommending it to them.

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
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