Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Your Toughened Heart Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Reuben offers an excerpt of a poem Swede has been working on, in which Sunny Sundown prepares to destroy his adversary, Valdez. At home, Davy is in the garage working on a secret. Swede, alone in the house, runs to answer a knock at the door, and Israel Finch and Tommy Basca wrestle her unceremoniously into a Chevy parked outside. Reuben explains that Swede had moments ago been writing innocent verse to describe Valdez, her bad guy, but that the terror of her abduction caused her poem to take a dark and sinister turn.
Reuben begins to describe how Swede uses her poem to make sense of her terrifying experience. Valdez morphs from a normal villain into something far nastier. Further, the fact that Sunny Sundown, who is a fictionalized Davy, struggles to catch Valdez begins to hint at the possibility that Davy isn't as unshakeable as his younger siblings might like to believe.
Themes
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Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
Israel makes Swede sit in his lap as he and Tommy drive away from the Land house. Reuben says that Swede's abduction might seem inconsequential compared to the other, far more violent abductions that seemed commonplace at the time, but that a nine-year-old should never suffer what Swede did. Davy reenters the house from the garage just as Swede returns from her ordeal, white as a sheet but not crying.
Israel and Tommy are evidently out to scare the Land family, and Swede as an innocent child is an easy target. Reuben indicates that Swede suffered more psychological trauma than physical trauma by mentioning other violent abductions of the early 60s, which begs the question of what the consequences of this type of psychological trauma are.
Themes
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Reuben listens in on the adults that night and hears Ted Pullet, the local police officer, telling Dad that he'll talk to "those boys" in the morning. Davy asks how many times a dog can bite before the dog should be put down, but Pullet refuses to take any real action. Davy gets up and leaves the house while Dad tries to convince Pullet to do something, but Pullet only says "you know Finch." Reuben explains that Israel Finch was kicked out of school the previous year for beating up a teacher, and many people are scared of him.
The language that Ted Pullet uses indicates that he views Israel and Tommy as frightening, but boys (not men) nonetheless, and presumably incapable of worse crimes. Davy obviously views them in a far more sinister light. Dad, meanwhile, appears to simply want to protect his family and Swede specifically, not necessarily get revenge.
Themes
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Swede says nothing about what happened to her. The next day she pulls out her doll and impatiently mothers it. Reuben notices two bruises on Swede's side as she rocks the doll. Later that night, Swede is hard at work in her notebook, presumably killing off Valdez.
The bruises suggest that Swede's experience was far more violent than previously thought. This experience is presumably one of the first times in which Swede is presented with the underbelly of the adult world without her consent—she's forced to grow up before she's ready.
Themes
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Swede turns nine the following morning. Dad, Davy, and Reuben wake her up in the morning singing "Happy Birthday" to her, and Reuben is relieved to see her look normal. Reuben gifts her a paperback Western, and Dad gives her a big black typewriter. Though Swede is immensely happy with this gift, Reuben thinks of the bruises he saw when he sees her fingers smudged with ink. Finally, Davy offers Swede a Texas stock saddle. Davy explains how he came by the saddle as Swede sits on it, and Davy apologizes that he can't fix the split in the saddle's cantle.
Even if Swede is ignoring her bruises, they're obviously extremely disturbing to Reuben. On this day in particular, he seems to dwell on Swede's loss of childish innocence more than she does, though it's suggested that Swede might be playing along and pretending to some extent to be normal. This indicates that Swede isn't ready to grow up and is trying to hold onto her childhood.
Themes
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Fiction, Reality, and the American West Theme Icon
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The day proceeds with all sorts of luxuries. After lunch, Dad pulls a balloon out of the closet. It turns out to be a small hot air balloon. They let it go out in the backyard and watch it rise.
The disappearing balloon becomes a poignant representation of Swede's lost youth and innocence after her abduction.
Themes
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The Lands then hear a honk in the front of the house. Davy runs around to look and when he returns, he says it's Tin Lurvy. Swede looks stricken. Dad invites Lurvy in for coffee, and Reuben explains that Lurvy is a traveling salesman who is quite large, eternally drunk, and never mentions what he's selling until asked. Swede insists to Davy and Reuben that she must go inside and help Dad find cookies so that Lurvy doesn't eat her birthday cake. Davy suggests they go to the woods instead, and Swede tells the boys to go without her if she's not back in two minutes. After ten minutes, Davy and Reuben leave.
Swede might be young and trying to hold onto her youth, but she displays a great deal of adult responsibility here when she insists on helping Dad. However, this sense of adult responsibility is juxtaposed with a very childish selfishness in regards to not wanting to share her birthday cake. Further, Swede seems unaware of this juxtaposition. When compared with Reuben's self-awareness, this creates a sense of immaturity in Swede.
Themes
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As Davy and Reuben walk, Davy asks Reuben if he saw Swede's bruises. They wonder if Dad is afraid of Israel and Tommy. Davy asks Reuben if he thinks God looks out for him, and then asks if he wants God to look out for him. Reuben thinks it's an odd question.
Davy's question suggests that he thinks Reuben might be more capable than Reuben thinks he is. It also begins to develop the reader's sense of Davy's religious doubts and conversely, the strength of Reuben's faith.
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Reuben and Davy encounter a tramp sleeping in the woods and quietly back away. Reuben tells the reader that the tramp really holds no clue or moral significance, but wonders if he should've felt as though something was different as he and Davy walked out of the woods.
Despite Reuben's insistence that the tramp is meaningless, it's possible to draw comparisons between the tramp and the life that Davy lives later in the novel. Reuben is beginning to develop a sense of dread as to what is going to change.
Themes
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Swede's birthday dinner is the Land family's favorite chowder. When Reuben and Davy enter the house, it's evident that Tin Lurvy is planning on staying for supper. Reuben inspects the soup and realizes that Dad only made a regular batch, not the triple batch needed to feed Tin Lurvy. Reuben looks stricken as he sits down for the meal. After his second bowl, Tin Lurvy begins to regale the table with the saga of getting his appendix out. It's a gruesome tale, and Reuben loses his appetite quickly. Everyone else, however, enjoys multiple bowls. Reuben wonders if he's the only one who noticed that a pot of soup meant to feed four fed multiple helpings to five people, and asks the reader to "make of it what you will."
This particular miracle continues to develop the similarities between Dad and Jesus, as this miracle mirrors Jesus' miracle of feeding many people from only a few loaves and fishes. When Reuben asks the reader to "make of it what you will," he's not asking the reader necessarily to take his account at face value. Reuben wants the reader to question the truth of what happened, while making it very clear that he himself believes his story. He wants the reader to share his sense of awe and similarly admire Dad.
Themes
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Tin Lurvy leaves not long after cake. Rain falls outside and Swede wonders if it'll turn to snow. Dad trips over Swede's saddle on his way to bed, and Swede and Reuben head to bed. Davy goes out, and Reuben wonders again about Swede's bruises. He gets out of bed to check on Swede, who's fast asleep in her room. Reuben approaches Swede's saddle and notices that the split in the cantle is no longer there. He remembers Dad tripping over the saddle, and asks the reader again to "make of it what you will."
Reuben appears fixated on the physical markers of Swede's loss of innocence. This suggests that he's aware that the experience was a transformative one for Swede, even if he's not yet sure how. Again, Reuben doesn't ask the reader to simply believe; he leaves room for the reader to interpret this miracle individually.
Themes
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After midnight Reuben hears the back door open and notices that both Dad and Davy are in bed asleep. Reuben listens to footsteps in the living room but can't bring himself to wake Davy. The steps stop outside Reuben's door, and Reuben hears Davy tell whoever's at the door to switch on the light. When the light comes on, Israel Finch is standing in the doorway with a baseball bat, Tommy Basca behind him. Davy, Winchester in hand, shoots twice at them. Israel dies immediately, but Tommy tries to crawl away. Swede flies out of her room and Dad appears suddenly to yank her into the bathroom and close the door. Davy gets out of bed and shoots Tommy in the back of the head.
The reader will notice the power imbalance between Davy and Israel and Tommy. Davy is ready with a weapon that is far deadlier than a baseball bat, and Israel and Tommy don't even have a chance to defend themselves. Further, the fact that Davy gets out of bed to shoot Tommy at close range suggests that his intent wasn't simply to defend his family. Notice too that Reuben is Davy's sole witness to the entire event, just as he's usually the sole witness of Dad's miracles. This supports Reuben's belief that he's alive to "bear witness."
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