I've been mulling over Leif Enger's Peace Like a River for off and on for hours today. Finishing a novel like this one, if there is another one like this one, is like coming to the end of a race but you want to keep on running. So what is this? A simple story with lyrical writing? Deconstructed western? Coming-of-age novel? Postmodernist interpretation of a western?
I want to accept it for what it appears to be on the surface -- a well-told, beautifully written coming-of-age novel that is ultimately about faith. But Peace Like a River won't let you do that. There are too many other things -- hints, wisps of something or another, shadows darting at the corner of your eye -- that suggest something else is going on here. At times, it almost seems that the author himself is barely maintaining control, much like the main character, 11-year-old Reuben Land, barely keeps breathing during asthma attacks.
In some ways, it's also a meta-western -- a western novel about western novels. But that explanation alone isn't sufficient. The closest I'll be able to come to the answer I'm searching for is that I think the novel started out as one thing and became something else. That's not a bad thing. But Peace Like a River isn't giving me much peace right now.