Virgil Wander

Virgil Wander

The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into...

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Title:Virgil Wander
Author:Leif Enger
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Virgil Wander Reviews

  • Cheri

    4.5 Stars

    --

    John Mellencamp, Songwriters: John Mellencamp

    4.5 Stars

    --

    John Mellencamp, Songwriters: John Mellencamp

    So begins the story of our narrator, Virgil Wander, of this town, and those who have come to this town, and even the stories of a few of those who have left. The fantastical, multiple stories woven together of the residents and the town, itself looming over all as this story slowly comes to light, unveiling a little at a time, even if some of this feels slightly, weirdly, mysterious.

    Greenstone was once an active mining town on the shores of Lake Superior, but those days are now past. Most things you could say about Greenstone were in the past tense: it was once home to a once-famous pitcher whose fame was as long lasting as his pitch – it disappeared along with him after pitching a no-hitter. Even Virgil, himself, was once a different version of the man he is becoming, a man who seems to have lost all of his adjectives since the accident that left him concussed, but also a more congenial, if not necessarily happier, Virgil.

    Virgil, city clerk for this town, and owner of the one and only movie theatre, the Empress, a theatre with an unusual collection of films. Add into this mix a cast of characters and a continuous stream of seemingly unreal sequence of events that left me feeling a bit dizzy – if still amused. There’s a very subtle humour in the way this is written, the kind that embraces these people and their quirky, somewhat befuddled ways.

    Perhaps even more than embracing these people, what Virgil discovers, ultimately, is how to embrace life.

    Pub Date: 02 OCT 2018

    Many thanks for the ARC provided by Grove Atlantic / Grove Press

  • Larry H

    What a gorgeous, quirky, and utterly charming book! Leif Enger may have made us wait 10 years since his last book, but his newest,

    , is definitely worth the wait.

    Virgil Wander is the slightly curmudgeonish owner of The Empress, a movie theater in decline in the town of Greenstone, Minnesota—which is also in the midst of its decline. One evening, on a snowy night in early autumn, Virgil's car goes flying off a bridge and into the frigid Lake Superior. Fortunately, the owner of the

    What a gorgeous, quirky, and utterly charming book! Leif Enger may have made us wait 10 years since his last book, but his newest,

    , is definitely worth the wait.

    Virgil Wander is the slightly curmudgeonish owner of The Empress, a movie theater in decline in the town of Greenstone, Minnesota—which is also in the midst of its decline. One evening, on a snowy night in early autumn, Virgil's car goes flying off a bridge and into the frigid Lake Superior. Fortunately, the owner of the town's local salvage yard happened to be hunting for saleable wares on the shore when Virgil's car went airborne, so he was able to save Virgil's life.

    Amazingly, Virgil comes out of the accident concussed, struggling with finding the correct words (particularly adjectives) and living with the memory lapses typical of those sustaining brain injuries. At the same time, he emerged with a different personality, more endearing, decisive, friendly, caring—qualities which are much appreciated by the motley group of friends and townspeople who live in Greenstone.

    "If I were to pinpoint when the world began reorganizing itself—that is, when my seeing of it began to shift—it would be the day a stranger named Rune blew into our bad luck town of Greenstone, Minnesota, like a spark from the boreal gloom."

    Into this broken town comes Rune, an affable Norwegian man and kite-creating magician. He came after learning that his last trip to the United States years and years ago led to the birth of a son he never knew about—only to learn that this son, minor league baseball pitcher Alec Sandstrom, had died, in a mysterious plane crash. Alec was a mythical figure in the small town, and his disappearance still affected many, including his widow, Nadine, and their teenage son, Bjorn.

    As Rune tries to assemble a portrait of the son he never knew, and perhaps start a relationship with the grandson he didn't know he had, he and Virgil build a close friendship, with each depending on each other. But the gorgeous kites that Rune creates and flies captivate the town's residents, who feel freer, unburdened after taking a turn at the strings.

    However, Greenstone has been known as a town of hard luck for many years, and it will continue to live up to its reputation. The town's residents experience tragedies, strange occurrences, and the return of a prodigal son whose presence both enlivens and frightens. And while Greenstone's residents show their characteristic resilience, they also experience moments of extreme joy and connection, all set against the gorgeous, open, Midwestern landscape.

    This is a difficult book to describe, but it felt so wonderful, almost like a hug in literary form. The novel meanders a bit, and these characters are definitely Midwestern Quirky, but they are so charming and endearing. At times it almost takes on a fairy-tale quality, but it isn't fantastical or beyond the pale of reality, for the most part.

    is a book about rebuilding your life and finding yourself again, about fighting the battles you need to in order to move on, about friendship, family, love, and the charm of a small town where everyone knows everyone's business. Enger is a magnificent writer, as evidenced by his two earlier books,

    and

    , and he deserves a place alongside writers such as Kent Haruf.

    You won't be able to get this one out of your mind—or your heart.

    NetGalley and Grove Atlantic provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

    See all of my reviews at

    , or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at

    .

  • Maggie Stiefvater

    This book is like one imagines old people are like when one is little: big-hearted and long-winded.

  • Diane S ☔

    4+ In Northern Minnesota there is a small town called Greenstone. Having lost it's industrial footing, those who remain are a hardscrabble, kind of stuck in a rut, group of people. Virgil, is our narrator, he lives above and own the local movie theater, a theater that sells few tickets, but is s community staple. At the beginning of our story, he has just been rescued after driving, accidentally or so he says, off a cliff into a body of water. Recovering he finds out that not only does his memor

    4+ In Northern Minnesota there is a small town called Greenstone. Having lost it's industrial footing, those who remain are a hardscrabble, kind of stuck in a rut, group of people. Virgil, is our narrator, he lives above and own the local movie theater, a theater that sells few tickets, but is s community staple. At the beginning of our story, he has just been rescued after driving, accidentally or so he says, off a cliff into a body of water. Recovering he finds out that not only does his memory have glaring gaps, but his use of adjectives has been seriously hindered.

    Into this down on it luck town, come a man named rune, a man who loves and flys kites, looking for information on the son, he recently discovered he had fathered. There are small mysteries here, and a town full of quirky characters, very different people, but all intriguing. The town itself, as expected is z bit of a throwback, things happen here that seldom happen elsewhere. It has rained frogs, yes frogs not men, they have a huge vole problem, and a former pet raccoon seems to have turned rabid. There is magic, certainly magic in the kites, those flying them become calmer somehow, and more liable to talk. There is a man, a sort prodigal son, who returns and seems to want to aid the town in its recovery. Somehow though, everyone who comes into contact with him seems to suffer some misfortune. There are other characters, all unique, all intriguing and liksble.

    There is humor here, in the lines, in the situations characters find themselves in, willingly of not. I enjoyed this novel immensely, the people, or rather most of them seem emblematic of some I could identify in my own small town. They are flawed, likable and pull together to help each other. Virgil,himself is a wonderful character, with hopes and dreams of his own, who often reaches out a helping hand to those in need. It's been quite a few years since this author has written a new novel, and I for one think it was worth the wait. Though I hope he doesn't wait as long before writing his next.

    This was our monthly read for Angela, Esil and myself. Think we all fell I love with this one!

    ARC from Edelweiss.

  • Angela M

    4+ stars

    I loved the writing from the beginning and fell for all of these quirky characters, and in the middle of the book I thought maybe this would be a nice story, predictable and sweet. I was partially right. The story ended up being more than that. In this down and out, waning town of Greenstone, MN, not far from Duluth, a lot of tough have things happened and it made perfect sense to rename their annual festival “Hard Luck Days.” Oh it’s humorous to read about them “the frog monsoon” with

    4+ stars

    I loved the writing from the beginning and fell for all of these quirky characters, and in the middle of the book I thought maybe this would be a nice story, predictable and sweet. I was partially right. The story ended up being more than that. In this down and out, waning town of Greenstone, MN, not far from Duluth, a lot of tough have things happened and it made perfect sense to rename their annual festival “Hard Luck Days.” Oh it’s humorous to read about them “the frog monsoon” with “thousands of frogs raining down” or when the water tower “slid off its footings”, but there really is a lot of loss and sadness for the people of Greenstone. The mining and the shipping businesses were gone, the jobs were gone and people left. There are two boys who have lost their fathers, a kite flying stranger from Arctic Circle who has lost a son he never knew he had, and there is Virgil, our main character who has lost some of his memory, some of his words, mostly adjectives when his car skids off the road in a near death accident and there are the people whose fate is death.

    Virgil Wander, part time city clerk and owner of the The Empress, an old fashioned single screen movie theater that sees few customers, is the center of this beautifully told, albeit odd story. Yet, I fell in love with this quirky cast of characters for their kindness to each other, their compassion and how easily they know the needs of their friends. There’s something sad and melancholy about this place, these characters. I worried about them - Rune, the man with his beautiful kite creations - a dog, a bicycle, a car, a stained-glass window, a cloudberry pie and other wonderful creations that drew the town to him. I worried about ten year old Galen, who knows he has to get that sturgeon, the one his father tried to catch. I worried about Virgil and whether he’d get his adjectives but mostly whether he’d find happiness. I worried about what would happen to this place whose inhabitants were full of heart in spite of the humorous and sad things that happened and whether they would survive the evil that also existed here. These were characters I didn’t want to leave and ones that I recommend you come to know. (Peace Like a River by Enger is one of my favorite books and I would recommend that as well.)

    I read this with Esil and Diane as our book for September and as always a joy to discuss with them especially when we end up feeling the same way.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from Grove Atlantic through NetGalley.

  • Karen

    Well, there are certainly a lot of subplots going on in this story, but I did enjoy it overall, especially due to the characters.

    Greenstone, Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior used to be quite a booming town but is in a season of “hard luck” days. We have the likes of Virgil who has a near death experience at the start of the book and all the other characters and happenings revolve around him... and, I loved him 😊

    We have a missing Major League Baseball player from the past, a Nordic kite f

    Well, there are certainly a lot of subplots going on in this story, but I did enjoy it overall, especially due to the characters.

    Greenstone, Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior used to be quite a booming town but is in a season of “hard luck” days. We have the likes of Virgil who has a near death experience at the start of the book and all the other characters and happenings revolve around him... and, I loved him 😊

    We have a missing Major League Baseball player from the past, a Nordic kite flyer, a pet raccoon, a homicidal sturgeon, a wayward son of the town founder, and a beautiful young woman ( the missing baseball player’s wife) and her son, and even more side lines going on.

    Sounds like much ado... and there is, but I feel most people will enjoy this book.

    Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Press for the advanced digital book!

  • Dorie  - Traveling Sister :)

    *NOW AVAILABLE*

    This book for me was definitely a 3.5 rounded up to a 4 for the writing. I longed to read this new book by the author of “Peace Like a River” which I probably hand sold to hundreds of people. Did I love this book, no I did not, but I liked it. Here’s why:

    As you know from the blurb and extensive reviews Virgil Wander is the main protagonist in this book and the story is told from his point of view. We begin with Virgil recovering from a near drowning after his car crashed through

    *NOW AVAILABLE*

    This book for me was definitely a 3.5 rounded up to a 4 for the writing. I longed to read this new book by the author of “Peace Like a River” which I probably hand sold to hundreds of people. Did I love this book, no I did not, but I liked it. Here’s why:

    As you know from the blurb and extensive reviews Virgil Wander is the main protagonist in this book and the story is told from his point of view. We begin with Virgil recovering from a near drowning after his car crashed through a barrier into lake Superior in icy water. Fortunately there was a local man who routinely looks for interesting items washed ashore who saw the accident, called the police and Virgil was saved. He has a concussion but is slowing getting his words and ambulation back.

    As he is at his home which is above the Empress theater which he owns a curious man appears, his name is Rune and he is a kite making, kite flying master. He has recently discovered that he had a son who lived in town but that son has been missing after flying his solo airplane across the Lake. He does however have a grandson and daughter in law whom is trying to get to know as well as asking everyone in town about his lost son and what he was like.

    There are so many characters in this book it can make your head hurt. There is the young attractive widow, Nadine, whom Virgil has loved from afar for ages; another orphaned young man 10 years old, Galen, who is determined to catch a mythical sized sturgeon whom he believes pulled his father into the water where he drowned. There is a towner, Adam Leer, who “made it big” as a filmmaker and has come back to spruce up his ancestral home, he may or may not be a “bad guy” since many bad things happen to people with whom he has disagreements. Jerry is a down and out guy whose marriage is floundering and is out of work. We see some hope for him when Adam gives him a job, but is this a good situation??? Where is this character really headed?

    The list of characters goes on and on. If that weren’t enough there are also racoons, ravens and sturgeons to account for. The book for me felt like it meandered on and on. I grew frustrated with the slow progress of the story yet I stuck with it because of the beautiful writing.

    I’m surprised that not many reviewers have mentioned all of the symbolism used by Mr. Enger, as he did in his previous books. Kites are symbols of prophecy and fate, also a wandering spirit. Black Ravens are symbolic of good prophecy. A man walking on water can either symbolize death or in Christian views, Jesus, walking on water, a sign of life. The most obvious use of symbolism was Lake Superior frequently referred to as the “sea” which is highly symbolic and from research I found this: “Usually, 'the sea' is used as a symbol in literature to represent life and its hardships. The sea, with its daunting width and depth, simply stands for life itself. It may be quite calm, but it become raging and even deadly in an instant, with the waves representing the sudden obstacles life throws our way”.

    That description of the sea is exactly what this book is about, life itself and how people deal with it’s ups and downs. I don’t really think this book is about small towns as I live in Wisconsin and have never encountered a small town or it’s inhabitants like this one. I really would classify this entire book as magical realism if it were my choice.

    I would recommend this book to someone who is willing to sit and read for long periods of time and has patience, with the story and the characters. I am looking forward to meeting this author in town next month and listening to what he has to say about the writing of this novel and what is all means.

    I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

    Virgil Wander, the main character, owns a movie theater and lives in small town Minnesota. He has a driving accident where his car lands in frigid Lake Superior. After the accident, his memory and language are impaired, and life is completely new to him.

    Virgil sets out to piece his life back together with information he can find outside himself. Through some quirky characters, he is able to fill in gaps, while he helps them revitalize their sleepy, ber

    ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

    Virgil Wander, the main character, owns a movie theater and lives in small town Minnesota. He has a driving accident where his car lands in frigid Lake Superior. After the accident, his memory and language are impaired, and life is completely new to him.

    Virgil sets out to piece his life back together with information he can find outside himself. Through some quirky characters, he is able to fill in gaps, while he helps them revitalize their sleepy, bereft of business, but not of people, town. There are also side stories with the quirky characters that add intrigue and mystery like a missing husband/son.

    Virgil Wander is a charming story about healing: restoring Virgil to his former glory while also restoring the town and community. The tone is somber and wistful. I wanted these characters to find happiness, for Virgil to regain his language, because I connected to them in a genuine way. They felt real, and their longing was relatable.

    There were times I smiled at the happenings, some moments of humor and hope amidst the sadness, and those balanced out the melancholy. I did not want to leave my time in Greenstone. I grew attached to its people, especially to Virgil. That experience alone lets me know I was enamored with this story, his story.

    Thank you to Atlantic Monthly Press/Grove Press for the ARC. All opinions are my own.

    My reviews can also be found on my blog:

  • Debra

    Ever "Wander" why a book doesn't quite work for you?

    Virgil Wander is the owner of the local "movie house" when his car goes off the road and into Lake Superior. The accident has left him with memory and language issues and his entire town is unfamiliar to him. Speaking of the town, there are many quirky and interesting characters who remained in their Midwestern town long after others have moved on.

    So, I am most likely in the minority on this book, but I have to say that I found parts of this b

    Ever "Wander" why a book doesn't quite work for you?

    Virgil Wander is the owner of the local "movie house" when his car goes off the road and into Lake Superior. The accident has left him with memory and language issues and his entire town is unfamiliar to him. Speaking of the town, there are many quirky and interesting characters who remained in their Midwestern town long after others have moved on.

    So, I am most likely in the minority on this book, but I have to say that I found parts of this book to be boring. Yes, there are some quirky and interesting characters but at times things just felt flat and the zaniness and the silly situations the characters found themselves in got old fast. I can't fault the writing which was very good, this is just a case of this book wasn't for me. I found myself stopping and starting this book as I found my attention wandering while reading. I believe I picked up and read four other books while attempting to finish this one. In many ways this book reminded me of Fredrik Backman's books but without the charming feel I get from them. This one left me underwhelmed.

    Three stars for the beautiful prose. Other's loved this book and I am reminded that we all can't love the same book. It bares to mind the sentiment that not two people read the same book. I really wanted to love this one. I choose it based on a positive review, but it didn't work for me. Was it me and not the book. I don’t know. For me, the book started slowly then got better and by the end began to lose some momentum again.

    Thank you to Grove Press and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

    Read more of my reviews at

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