Friday, June 14, 2019

Highway 61, Revisited

Virgil Wander
A novel
by Leif Enger
Atlantic Monthly Press
New York: 2018

This, the third novel by Minnesota native Leif Unger, is set along the north-west shore of Lake Superior in the fictional town of Greenstone, a rough composite of Two Harbors and Grand Marais with the Temperance River thrown in for good measure. Virgil is the owner of a failing cinema as well as being the part-time city clerk. As the book opens, He has accidentally crashed his car into the lake but is rescued and wakes up in a Duluth hospital. He is suffering from some brain trauma, not extreme, but affecting his relationships to the people in the town (and giving the narrative a definite air of unreliability.)

A well-developed cast of characters populates the book, each character has their own agenda (and secrets) that becomes clearer as the book progresses. The town is considered cursed by some, so much so that the city’s powers-that-be decide to hold a “Hard Luck Days” summer festival, an event that seems to be cursed as well.

Enger is a great writer and his other two novels—Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome—have been critically acclaimed. This book reminded me of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon novels but is more subtle and contemplative. While it does contain some elements of a mystery, it is nothing like Vidar Sundstøl’s Minnesota Trilogy. It is genial, even a little precious at times, but I think it truly captures the Minnesota North Shore mindset.


By Professor Batty


Blogger jono said...

Interesting! The theater in Grand Marais was closed by the time I moved up here back in '84. The building was finally demolished a couple of years ago after being a home for rodents for decades. The Two Harbors theater opens and closes once in a while and last I heard was closed since about 2015. It's sad, but there just isn't the population base needed, I guess. I might have to read this one.

Blogger Mary said...

Interesting, indeed. Just put Piece like a RIver on hold at the library,

Blogger Professor Batty said...

I tried to read So Brave, Young, and Handsome but couldn't get into it the was I did with this book.

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