Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River The Curious Music That I Hear Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben tells the reader that while he was away, Jape Waltzer shot at the Ford and the house several times. Roxanna called the sheriff, Dr. Nokes, and God. Sara hid while Swede frantically searched Dad's closet for his shotgun. Reuben says that later he was told that he lay facedown while Dad propped himself on his elbow. Swede attended to Reuben while Roxanna tried to stop the bleeding from Dad's side. As Swede started crying that Reuben wasn't breathing, Dr. Nokes pulled up. He deemed Reuben gone and tried to revive Dad. County cars rolled in and Dad's eyes rolled back. A deputy then shouted as Reuben started coughing and spouting blood and water.
While Reuben is the one to record this miracle in writing, he doesn't get to bear witness to how the miracle looked from earth. Mr. Waltzer's shots suggest that justice can be obtained through fear alone. Notably though, this brand of justice is the same as Davy's, as it's based on a personal code of honor. In this way, Davy doesn't truly escape the consequences of his actions. He must suffer the combination of what his own honor system and Mr. Waltzer's deem necessary.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Weeks later, Dr. Nokes sits with Reuben and admits he doesn't know how Reuben was breathing. Since his trip to the "next country", Reuben's lungs have been perfect. Dr. Nokes tells Reuben that Dad shouldn't have died, because his wound wasn't that bad. Reuben then says that years later, Dr. Nokes told him that Reuben should certainly have died. His lungs were shredded as he lay in the driveway, though in the emergency room, the doctor said it looked as though they hadn't been touched. Reuben says that of course they'd been touched, and that he misses Dad.
Even though Dr. Nokes was technically a witness to the miracle, he insists that it shouldn't have happened. This mirrors Davy's thoughts about the tornado that picked up Dad in that the facts are undeniable, yet the reasoning remains mysterious. Reuben sees it is as Dad's final miracle and sacrifice. Dad again embodies Jesus as he dies for his son and washes away Reuben's ailments.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Reuben says he must finish quickly, as Swede says that "drift is the bane of epilogues." Roxanna became the Land family's rock. Sara stayed with the Lands and Roxanna drew her slowly out of her shell while Reuben watched Sara from afar. Swede dropped out of school at 17 to write a novel that was never published, but today she's written four novels, a history of the Dakota Territories, and a poetry collection. Reuben deems the poetry collection fantastic. It all rhymes and parts are about cowboys. Reviewers didn't know what to do with it. One review made Swede angry enough to write a letter back to the reviewer. Their exchange was published and Swede's book landed on bestseller lists as a result.
Roxanna takes Dad's place as head of household and spiritual guide. Reuben shows that he maintains a childish sense of glee at Westerns into adulthood, as does Swede. However, while Reuben certainly matured and became comfortable with the difference between fiction and reality, it's left ambiguous whether Swede was able to do the same. Swede's adulthood remains driven by fiction and the thought of how things look from a literary angle. Swede never has to question how these things function in her life, as for her, they're all part of her reality.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Jape Waltzer was never caught, much like Valdez. Davy eventually tells Reuben that Waltzer bludgeoned Andreeson and rolled the body into the lignite vein. When Reuben was 25, Andreeson's adult son came to visit, but Reuben was too young to provide him any real comfort.
The mention of Valdez in relation to Mr. Waltzer suggests that Reuben has learned to accept that bad people or villains exist in society, and that the world doesn't always follow an obvious system of justice.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
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Reuben says that finally, the reader needs to know that one Thanksgiving when all except for Davy were home, they held hands around the table to pray. Swede released Reuben's left hand when the prayer ended, but Sara held onto Reuben's right.
When Reuben finds love, it suggests that his coming of age is complete. Now, as an adult, he's mature enough to engage with Sara in the real world and not just as a fantasy like he did with Bethany Orchard.
Themes
Youth vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Loyalty and Family Theme Icon
Davy, meanwhile, shows up some years in a small hunting town in Canada. Reuben goes every year to see the geese migrate. Swede went with Reuben twice, but Davy never appears when she's there. The first time Reuben meets Davy in Canada, Reuben shares what happened in the "next country." Reuben says that it's hard to gauge belief in Davy. Davy asks to see Reuben breathe, which Reuben does easily.
Once again, Davy must face the fact that a miracle occurred and reconcile those facts with his disbelief. This makes the point for the final time that while religion is an undeniable force in everyone's lives, it's up to individuals to decide how to interpret and live with that force.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Justice and Consequences Theme Icon
Davy asks if Reuben ever doubts what happened. Reuben tells the reader that sometimes he does, but then he looks out his window of the house he built with Sara. He sees his daughter or his son, or Sara enters the room, and Reuben feels a sense of certainty. He tells the reader that he cannot press belief on anyone, but to "make of it what you will."
Reuben attributes all the good he experiences as an adult, from parenthood to building his house by hand, to God and to Dad. Reuben's final request is that the reader take his story and use it to engage in their own inquiry into the power of religion and the intersection between fiction and reality, with the understanding that blending these elements provides life richness, nuance, and happiness.
Themes
Religion Theme Icon
Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
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