Everybody’s going somewhere. And the truth is if you’re not, you’re being left behind. But it used to be you could have stasis, have a job, earn a living, not get rich and not be poor, kinda experience life as it comes to you.
Virgil lives in Greenstone, Minnesota, north of Duluth. And at the beginning of the book he drives his Pontiac off the road and into the lake and if weren’t for a bystander rescuing him…
Virgil ends up with a head injury, and it changes his perspective.
Now I’ve been to Duluth, one of the last outposts before wilderness. It can be winter in the middle of summer, the lake is as forbidding as the Pacific at times. The wind blows, and don’t forget, the Edmund Fitzgerald embarked from Duluth.
I love that song. Along with Dan Fogelberg’s “Old Lang Syne.” I like story songs, although Harry Chapin’s were at times a bit treacly. Yet Gordon Lightfoot’s opus is completely different from today’s hits. It feels like it was cut up in the Great Lakes, it makes you feel something. The wind in your hair, the nip at your collar, you feel fully alive. I’m not saying that I want to be in Minneapolis today, but I have experienced double digits below zero. And as long as it doesn’t last too long, you sit inside overheated buildings and feel fuzzy, along with being warm. In our tech-ridden world, it illustrates that Mother Nature is still in charge. That’s one thing about being out in the elements, in the wilderness, you realize how insignificant you are, you think you matter, but you really don’t, like George Carlin said, save yourself, the Earth will be here long after you’re gone. Possibly without human inhabitants, as a result of global warming, but we believe everything we do is so important, and it’s not. What’s important is that moment in “Same Old Lang Syne.” We think about the old ones, and when you run into them, it’s bittersweet.
Now I found “Virgil Wander” on Amazon, it was one of the Best Books of 2018. Actually, I trust Amazon more than the major publications, than writers themselves, because they too often recommend titles to make themselves look good, unreadable stuff that makes you feel inadequate for being unable to fathom it. And I’m always looking for new books. I was on a run of bad ones for a while, but that has changed. I read Rebecca Makkai’s “The Great Believers.” It’s about the AIDS crisis in Chicago, but it’s more than that, and so readable. It’s lauded, and deservedly so. And “Late In The Day” by Tessa Hadley, which is a little less readable than “The Great Believers,” but the plot gets you going. The reviews say it’s comedic, but not by my standards. It’s about two couples and one husband dies and…I’m not gonna ruin it for you.
But the book that rang my bell most was “Virgil Wander.”
You see I download the samples to my Kindle.
I know, I know, you abhor the device. But kids are not addicted to bookstores, which will continue to die, and you’re victimized by inventory at the store and it’s easier to research titles online than comb through the shelves, and how do you know what’s good, by the blurbs? Ain’t that a laugh.
And I rarely read non-fiction. Because most of it can be summed up in a sentence, and a lot of it is wrong and it doesn’t ring that humanity bell. Of course there are exceptions, like “Educated. Read that immediately. But I wonder what the author’s gonna do next.
So I read the sample and really enjoyed it so I went back to Amazon to see who this author Leif Enger was. And I was immediately thrown off by the typeface of the book cover, it seemed to portend a story from a galaxy far far away in the past, but it turned out Mr. Enger wrote a legendary book, “Peace Like A River,” in 2007 that I’d never heard of, but the reviews were stellar, so I decided to dive into “Virgil Wander,” I bought it, long after midnight, when bookstores are closed.
And I became enraptured in the Greenstone world.
Lake Superior threatens on the shore, and then there’s a bluff and beyond that…nothing, plains. The thing about Minnesota is, as cold as it is in the winter, that’s how hot and muggy it is in the summer. But you can live there. Minneapolis is au courant, culturally bubbling, Prince is not the only hip thing to come from the city. And the lakes and the living…
Once again, most people have never been there. But maybe you’ve been outside the metropolis, you’ll get “Virgil Wander,” or maybe you’ll want to move there.
Virgil owns a cinema. No, he calls it a “movie theater.” But he’s not making any money. Oftentimes fewer than ten people are in the audience, since not only are movies dying, but Greenstone too.
So he works as city clerk. That’s a truism of the hinterlands, many people have multiple jobs, you just can’t pay the bills otherwise.
So eventually something big happens. But along the way, it’s a number of small events. Sure, some death, but mostly characters damaged and imperfect in a world where everybody’s doing their best to appear streamlined and together.
And now I don’t want to tell you more.
There’s a moment of misunderstanding, but you don’t realize it until deep into the book, but it made my heart sigh when the truth was revealed.
Not that that’s the number one plot point, but “Virgil Wander” is like life, there are many things going on, few of them major.
So I think you should read it. Especially if you’re a victim of the polar vortex. Just download it on your Kindle…oops, to the Kindle app on your iPad, phone or computer, you don’t have to leave the house, you can cocoon up with a book that will make you feel connected, not inferior, that there’s more to life than becoming a millionaire, that there are rewards in just waking up every day.
I recommend it.