Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Leif Enger”

Word Nerd Confessions: Wander Words


I do so enjoy picking up new words from a book I’m reading. Usually I garner a couple, now and then a handful. Sometimes though, a book will offer a plethora of new diction and I am in linguaphile bliss. Virgil Wander provides an amazing array of words. It’s not so much the actual word Leif Enger interjects, it’s how he applies it that makes the usage so noticeable and appealing.

Let’s begin…

Did you know there is a word for the sound of the wind flowing through trees or through the sea? I didn’t either. It’s known as soughing.

If something is rotten and falling apart, rightly call it out by saying its manky.

Why call it a bat when pipistrelle is more fitting.

As for contributing to the possible delinquent tendencies of minors, especially males, save them from future recidivism by taking away temptations.

Pick up a twin-coil guitar pick if you desire, although utilizing a humbucker sounds much more fun.

Once I realized I was on to a vein of golden lexicon, I began saving sentences and contemplating and translating into my own bag of definitions and choices.

“They had some devious sentience.” My choice would be sense of being or awareness.

“...wrote exegetical papers. Explaining something sometimes is not enough.

I then thought, “sentences and page number”:

“I won’t deny my vocal elan took a hit (p. 122). I would have said enthusiasm.

..left out the rumors of his expiry (p.130) Death is simply too bland.

…a fluminate ache” (p.164) Saying it’s a sudden, intense pain isn’t enough sometimes.

The sheriff is not laconic or severe” (p.136) Here I would have said the sheriff was a touch recalcitrant, but sheriffs of few words are bordering on cliche.

she had passerine eyes” (p.168 ) Is that a compliment or an astute observation if a girl has bird-like eyes? Is she a hawk, a sparrow, a chickadee? I need to take a look for myself.

“…he attenuated his budget” (p. 172) Why lessen the budget when attenuating it sounds more dire?

This word: repatriate*, threw me. This is where a prisoner of war, a refugee, or in some cases, artwork (such as 170 films ranging from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Rock Hudson’s Pretty Maids All in a Row) are returned to the point of origin. Here’s the really interesting part–this is a bona fide job. What would it be like to roll up to someone’s house and say, “Hi, I’m here to repatriate that Van Gogh that you thought you purchased from a legitimate source, only to find out it was stolen from a museum? *One of they key elements of the plot was how Virgil inherited a stash of films when he purchased the movie theater. Their legal status created some angst on Virgil’s behalf. As a result, it might require an act of conscience to repatriate the films.

Instead of saying a building was similar in style, Enger says it’s an iteration (p.191)

Why saying the items were falling apart when putrescent is so much more exact? (p.191)

As for the bad guy in Enger’s story, he isn’t merely a villian, he’s “inveterate predator” (p. 219)

When throwing a wild studio fim party, drunken revel comes to mind, but that seems rather base, even banal–Enger describes these parties as bacchanalia (p. 222)

I favor the word brio, since it is a deeper, more expressive descriptive of enthusiasm. Enger interjects it to describe a particular film (p.223)

Remember that villian? He is also described as being avaricious (p.239).Being a bad guy is one thing, being a greedy bad guy is quite a different category of bad.

No one wants to be defined as a lout, especially not a raffish lout (p.423).

Obfuscation is always a better choice than plain old confusion (p.249).

I’ve not looked into the eyes of a sturgeon lately, or ever, for that matter. It would be of great consternation if the eyes of said sturgeon were insouciant (p.189). How can a fish have carefree eyes? Actually, if you read the book and make some decisive connections between the villain and the sturgeon, Enger knew that insouciant was appropriate.

Reading Virgil Wander kept me scampering between looking up the words, translating connotative and denotative meaning, and outright marveling over the usage. The only other book in which I do the dictionary shuffle is Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

What is most admirable about Virgil Wander and his first person vernacular narrative is that he complains how he can’t always find the right word since his accident, when he drove his car into the lake and sustained a few injuries including head trauma. I wonder what his lexicon abilities were prior to his concussion? As much as I love words I am fine staying on this side of the guard rail and the lake and will not be seeking water immersion to improve my vocabulary.

If you haven’t discovered Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, I hope my review and Word Nerds post have convinced you how it is a need to read selection.

Watch out for insouciant sturgeon, by the way.

Reader Round Up: June


Sometimes a novel stands out from the others. It shines out its brilliance so noticeably that it deserves an entire post. Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander is such a read.

Five Star–most def

Halfway through the book Virgil , out titular hero, and Rune, think Gandalf with kites, are drinking a Nordic spirit, apparently possessing the kick similar to sake, and Rune makes the philosophic observance “…that just because a thing was poetry didn’t mean it never happened in the actual world, or that it couldn’t happen still.”

This is what is so noteworthy about Virgil Wander as a novel. It is not exactly real-world in scope, neither is it magical realism, but neither is it so unbelievable as to be dismissable. The naysayer critics argued that Enger’s engaging tale is stretching unbelief a bit too much. Like Rune noted, just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

It seems storytellers, the ones like Garrison Keillor who come from Minnesota are the ones who take the ordinary and lean it somewhat so that you have to tip your head to get it all in focus. Or at least I do. I took it with a grain of salt when Keillor spun his hometown stories of seemingly average citizens and transformed their lives and situations into above average. Enger does the same with his own Minnesota tale. He takes a small town on the banks of the Lake Superior and tips its inhabitants a bit sideways and creates intriguing situations out of the mundane. For instance, a sturdy sturgeon that is repudiated to be the cause of death for one fisherman takes on menacing qualities akin to Moby Dick. That homey festival that every small town hosts, the one with corn dogs, a parade, face painting, and a band? Enger turns into an event celebrating the hard luck days of the town, complete with children dressing up as frogs to replicate the day it indeed rained frogs upon the fair town. There may or may not be a bomb threat involved. There is even a raven who becomes mildly domesticated of his own volition.

If the novel sounds odd in highlighting aspects that caught my eye. Well, it is odd. Odd wonderful. Oddly captivating. Odd how I couldn’t stop reading it, being irritated when I had to stop periodically to eat or sleep.

I vastly relished Enger’s debut novel Peace Like a River, and so did the nation. It only took eighteen or so years for his third novel to appear (haven’t caught up to his second one yet), but it sure was worth the wait.

Looking for amusing, Keillor-style storytelling, winsome characters, unforgettable setting, and a couple of mysteries to sweeten the plot? Then I hope you locate a copy of Virgil Wander.

Let me know if you found a copy or if you have read it. Let’s dialog this five star find.

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