It only took me three days to read Leif Enger’s third novel Virgil Wander. I read his other two which are also pictured above while I was taking a break from blogging. I’ll try to write something about them soon. All of them are great but Virgil takes the prize for favorite.
When the title character accidentally drives into Lake Superior and is then rescued, he gets what might be called a new lease on life. In fact, he refers to himself before the accident as “the previous tenant”. It’s not so much a drastic change as a subtle one, but its a change nonetheless. The “previous” Virgil probably wouldn’t have invited a kite-flying Norwegian stranger to share his apartment – but the new one does.
Virgil runs the local movie house in Greenstone, Minnesota on the banks of Lake Superior where the movies he shows are still on reels of film as opposed to digital. He lets on that he is a failed theology student who “ran out of God”. His change after his baptism of sorts is more one of perspective. All the bad things about his situation are still there. He just sees them in a different light. Nor does he shy away from them anymore.
Somewhat of a loner, Virgil still lives within his community but now he is more willing to get involved with people with the help of his new kite-flying friend. Toward the end, he has the thought that “your tribe is always bigger than you think.”
This novel reminds me in some ways of Wendell Berry’s stories of Port William, Kentucky, especially Jayber Crow, I’m curious if Enger intends to write more about the folks in Greenstone. I’d love to hear about them.
There is also something slightly personal about the novel in that I lived in Hibbing, Minnesota for a brief time when I was growing up. Located on the Mesabi Iron Range, Hibbing isn’t far away from where Greenstone is fictionally (I think) located. It’s mentioned briefly in the novel as a place where someone’s sister is from. It also happens to be the birthplace of Robert Zimmerman who later became known as Bob Dylan. In the novel there is a running joke about how Greenstone’s mayor, Lydia, keeps a correspondence with Dylan who always turns down her request to headline at Greenstone’s annual festival “Hard Luck Days” (great name!). But then this happens at the end of the novel:
Last spring Bob Dylan overcame his wariness and played our Main Street stage. I missed it, but Lydia went with a lemon pie, and ate it with Dylan after the show. She reports he said little, but his eyes were expressive. He called the pie “better than the Nobel.”