Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Something Warm Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben and his family make it through Mandan without being sighted by a single police officer. He asks the reader to "make of it what you will." That night, Swede tells Reuben that Dad is just like Moses parting the Red Sea. Reuben believes this comparison is somewhat impertinent. He tries to suggest several lesser prophets, including Jonah, and Swede refers to Jonah as a griper. This further irritates Reuben until Swede explains that Jonah spent his time pouting. Reuben is dumbfounded, and hopes the other prophets hadn't had "childish flaws" like that. But he tells Swede that Jonah at least wrote a book that's in the Bible, unlike Dad.
Reuben evidently believed that the prophets were all shining examples of Christian ideals, and the possibility that Jonah wasn't is disturbing for him. This forces Reuben to consider that the prophets were people with flaws like any other, not the type of fictional characters that behave perfectly at all times. When Reuben downplays his father's miracles only because they're not in the Bible, it reinforces the idea that the novel itself performs a Bible-like function.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben wonders why Andreeson went to such lengths to find them. Swede says she expected it, and cagily says that Andreeson is still in Linton. She finally admits that she put maple syrup in Andreeson's gas tank, looking proud and scared.
Sabotaging Andreeson was Swede's way of showing her loyalty to her family, though the consequences of her sabotage are intensified since the Lands still need gas.
Themes
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
The Lands still need gas. Ten miles out of Mandan, Dad pulls over, uses the spare ten gallons, and lies down with a headache. Swede reminds Dad that it's Saturday, and that gas stations will be closed the following day. Dad asks Swede to pray for more gas, tucks her and Reuben into bed, and goes to his room.
Dad seems to be using prayer here less to truly bring about change and more as a way to comfort Swede. This suggests that religion can provide comfort even when it doesn't necessarily bring about concrete results.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Later, Swede asks Reuben why they even have to buy more gas after miraculously evading state troopers earlier that day. They discuss the possibility that Dad prayed for it to happen, potentially with his eyes closed. Reuben suggests that if you're praying for something big enough, God keeps you from crashing. Reuben compares it to getting 13 doughnuts at the baker's instead of 12, which Swede deems disrespectful. After a few minutes of silence, Swede says that she thought that Dad could just pray the tank full, since it's not very different from what happened earlier in the day.
Remember that this is the first miracle that Swede has witnessed; in her mind, Dad could easily be capable of anything. It's an exciting prospect as it suggests that things she previously thought existed only in fiction do indeed exist in real life. Reuben demonstrates again how much he has to learn about the world when he attributes a baker's dozen to God.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
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Reuben says he doesn't know if Dad prays for "them" (miracles) or if they just happen. He reminds Swede of the miracle of his birth, and goes on to detail several other of Dad's miracles. Reuben and Swede have never spoken of this before, and Swede gets up to inspect her healed saddle. Reuben says that the fact that Swede never noticed that the split disappeared is the part that people have a hard time believing.
Reuben alludes to the fact that he's told this story before, which implies that he's spent his life acting as a disciple for his father and spreading the word of his miracles. Again, he doesn't require the reader to take what he says as fact, which suggests that even as fiction, there's something to gain from his story.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
The thermometer reads 19 degrees the next morning. The trailer ran out of propane in the night, so Reuben, Dad, and Swede eat dry cereal for breakfast since the milk is frozen. As Reuben kneels on the stove to put the coffee pot away, he knocks over a stack of cups and they shatter on the stove. Dad begins to sing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as he cleans up the shards from the cups.
The bitter cold and lack of resources continue to show Reuben and Swede that the West in the winter isn't simply idyllic campfires; it's a truly difficult and uncomfortable place to live. Here, as fiction becomes reality, it loses its shine and becomes far less romantic.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
The Lands drive all morning in the freezing Plymouth. They pass through several towns and take note of all the closed gas stations. Swede mentions that Teddy Roosevelt ranched not far from where they are currently in North Dakota. In the early afternoon, the Plymouth starts misfiring and bucking as it struggles to burn gas. They see a sign for the town of Grassy Butte and decide to stop there, but before they reach the town, they see a farmhouse with gas pumps outside. A sign reads "Dale's Oil Company," and Dad suggests they stop.
Despite the freezing cold and lack of romance, Swede remains insistent on relating the Lands' adventure to history and fiction about the West. This shows Swede's childish optimism and drives home again how much she admires real people who embody the admirable qualities of cowboys and ranchers and engage in hard work.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Dad knocks on the farmhouse door. On the second knock, a woman opens the door holding a baby goat sucking at a bottle. She informs them that it's Sunday and Dale left several months ago. Dad offers his sympathies and the woman's reply includes multi-syllabic words that thrill Swede. Dad asks to buy gas. The woman abruptly shuts the door but returns a few minutes later dressed for the outdoors. She fills their tank and tells Dad her name is Roxanna. Dad suggests she changes the name of the pump to "Roxanna's Oil," and then asks if she has propane.
Roxanna recalls Swede's fascination with specific women from Western novels that "ride like men." Roxanna appears fully self-sufficient, willing to buck tradition (by selling gas on a Sunday), and further, appears to be a wordsmith like Swede herself. This turns Roxanna into a prime role model for Swede.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben, Swede, and Dad wait inside while Roxanna fills the propane tank. A nanny goat and her blind kid live in the bathroom. The billygoat is a shady character, and Roxanna and Swede exchange all manner of names to describe him. Dad asks Roxanna if Grassy Butte has a motel. He, Reuben, and Swede are almost back at the car when Roxanna opens her door again and offers them rooms at her house.
Dad evidently doesn't intend to stay, despite the fact that Roxanna's farm and Roxanna herself seem like a miraculous discovery. When she invites them to stay it stands as another instance of something too good or far-fetched to be real becoming real.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon