Bookish, Reviews

Review: “Virgil Wander,” Leif Enger

Happy Fall, Bookworms!

In my part of the world, we’ve had a LOT of really hot days in a row.  Today is the *first* real *fall* feeling day, and I’m so ready for it!

I have a quick book review for you today.  This is for a book that I picked up in hopes that it would be like A Man Called Ove from an American perspective.  While the book had its similarities to Backman’s works, it went off in its own direction–and with pretty great success!


virgil wanderFour-Star-Review

Thank you to BookishFirst and Grove Atlantic for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

One snowy night in a small Minnesota town, Virgil Wander loses control of his car and crashes into Lake Superior.  He’s rescued and revived, but something about the accident has changed him. On the day he’s released from the hospital, he meets Rune, a kite-maker searching for information and stories about his son–a relative he didn’t know existed, and a man who disappeared from the town years ago.  This book follows these two unlikely friends, as well as Rune’s daughter-in-law and grandson, through the gossip and drama of small-town life, dipping in and out of the mundane and the magical. I was captivated by the beautiful writing of this text and comforted by its message of community and human connection.

While interlaced with an air of suspense, Virgil Wander is first and foremost a character-driven novel.  The storyline carries readers through the personalities of its characters, drawing on relationships and connections more than actions.  The central mystery that gently drives the plot leads to a soft conclusion that doesn’t completely remove the unknown, because the purpose of this story isn’t necessarily answers, but people.  At the same time, Enger weaves in a thin bit of magical realism that feels unexpected. While delicate and interlaced with the rest of the text, these moments were jolting compared to the rest of the domesticated small-town plot.

As a character study, the members of this town are intricate and distinct; they feel like individuals you may encounter in any Midwestern village.  Virgil is a delightful narrator, whose voice is sometimes contemplative, sometimes humorous. He serves as a historian, filling in the reader on the individuals he encounters in his days.  I found him to be complex and ambiguous, often in good but occasionally in confusing ways. Rune was no easier to understand; he was a walking enigma, a fact which fed into the mystery surrounding his person.  Yet his charisma connects him not only with every member of town, but also to the reader. Bjorn was another wonderful character, although at times I found his personality and attitude at odds with his age (which was never clearly stated).  The “villain” was unexpected and the most mysterious of all–I found most of his role disjointed from the rest of the text. The other members of town were engaging yet banal, as they felt like authentic snapshots from Midwest America.

In all things, this book is written in the most lovely prose.  I found myself captivated by the voice, lyricism, metaphor, and so on, and dwelt in the essence of the writing itself.  Despite the lack of plot, the book was engaging due to the way it was written. This was perhaps my favorite element of the book; it’s always wonderful to be gifted with excellent literary quality.

Virgil Wander is an elegant tale filled with beautiful writing that captures a perfect image of the imperfect Midwestern small town.  While largely focused on depicting individuals, the story also divulges into the magical and mysterious–for better or for worse.  I recommend this book highly to those who enjoy literary fiction and books with excellent written language, as well as those who appreciate magical realism.




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