Minnesotan Enger pulls out the stops in this readable albeit religiously correct debut about a family with a father who may be touched by God and a son by the Devil.
Jeremiah Land’s wife left him years ago, and now, in a midwestern town called Roofing, in 1962 or so, he’s janitor at the local school and sole parent of chronically asthmatic Reuben, 11 and the tale’s teller; his precocious sister Swede, only 9 and already an accomplished poet of western outlaw-romances; and Davy, who at 17 becomes a killer—though possibly a just one. Two town boys from the wrong side of the tracks have a grudge against custodian Jeremiah (he caught them in the girls’ locker room) and, after vowing revenge (and briefly kidnapping Swede), they appear one night in the upstairs of the Land house, whereupon Davy (did he lure them there?) bravely and determinedly shoots them dead. There’s a trial, a conviction—and then a jailbreak as Davy escapes, not to be seen for some months. Miraculous? Well, Reuben has seen his father walk on air (“Make of it what you will,” he advises the reader), and now there’s a miraculous meal (a pot of soup is bottomless), the miracle of the family’s being left an Airstream trailer—even the miracle of Jeremiah being fired, leaving the family free to take to the road after Davy. The direction they go (toward the Badlands), how they avoid the police, what people they meet (including a future wife for Jeremiah), how they find handsome Davy—all depend on what may or may not constitute miracle, subtle or wondrous, including the suspenseful events leading to a last gunfight and the biggest miracle of all (preceded by a glimpse of heaven), all followed by certain rearrangements among the lives of mortals.
Handsomely written, rich with the feel and flavor of the plains—and suited mainly for those whose yearnings are in the down-home, just-folks style of the godly.