“Virgil Wander” is set in the present but it feels perfectly, irresistibly old-fashioned. That is, above all else, its greatest method of seduction.
Set in a midwestern town, Leif Enger’s new novel follows the story of Virgil, an everyman-type who owns a failing movie theater and works for city hall to make ends meet. When Virgil’s car plunges into Lake Superior, he escapes death but is left to put the pieces of his life back together, beginning with his failing memory. The result is a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of a man’s journey to discover the best version of himself.
Thanks to Enger’s masterful writing, this book drew me in from the very start and never let go until the last page...maybe not even then. His beautiful descriptions of small town scenes and relatable characters were in perfect contrast to a plot that was sometimes realistic and sometimes achingly artsy. It has been said that it took Enger ten years to write this book, and I could see why. Each detail was polished. No word was wasted, no scene overplayed.
I was sad to see these characters go when I closed the book. And while Enger did an admirable job of accelerating and then wrapping up a plot that took a turn I never expected, he also left some strings hanging in the air. He didn’t resolve everything and he didn’t even come close to answering every question posed within in the pages of “Virgil Wander”. I was okay with that...more than okay. It only added to the appeal of a book that was hard to pin down, like a kite on a stormy day.
If you are looking for a read alike to this novel, I found it to have a similar vibe and plot progression to “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo. But that is only a loose comparison. This novel stands as a unique work that is certainly worth your time.
*Grove Atlantic provided me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. “Virgil Wander” releases on October 4, 2018.