Virgil’s narration is a joy: he lost his adjectives in the crash, making for their gleeful insertion each time he remembers one. Enger populates down-on-its-luck Greenstone with true characters—charming Virgil, his love interest, friends, and not-quite-friends, and even some wily wildlife—and gives them diverting plotlines aplenty, but the focus of his bright and breathing third novel feels mostly like life itself, in all its smallness and bigness, and what it means to live a good one.
It’s an expansive vision Enger has, peopled with pretty regular folks but with room for romance and redemption, the drama of the everyman and the everyday ... Enger’s peculiar blending of poetic plainness and self-conscious artifice is such that, if you aren’t rolling your eyes at that Hiawathan tall tale, then you can be sure you’ve been expertly led into the realm of fiction where everything is possible...
... Virgil Wander... is one of the most engaging protagonists I’ve encountered in years ... Reading the novel is like walking into your beloved uncle’s bachelor pad: Every page is packed with curios and brimming with delightful nostalgia. But the nostalgia is well modulated ... Enger’s first novel in 10 years marks him as a foremost stylist. His prose is rhapsodic, kaleidoscopic and — I’ll say it — enviable. Even more enviable is the rare feat of writing a comedic literary novel that is also a page-turner ... Virgil Wander is a lush crowd-pleaser about meaning and second chances and magic.
And now, a full decade after [So Brave, Young, and Handsome], comes Virgil Wander, another small-town tale that struggles to be something more than merely charming ... I wanted to like Virgil Wander, and I appreciate Enger’s attempt to capture the subterranean tremors that can unsettle a person or a town, but the story’s assorted eccentricities never gain much forward momentum — until, suddenly, all its little puzzles explode in the final, absurd pages. What Virgil calls the 'fable-like atmosphere' remains simply cloudy, clotted by earnest pronouncements ... Enger tempts us to imagine we can catch the scent of magic wafting through this story, but too often we get these limp aphorisms instead. For all their studied quaintness, Virgil and his town aren’t vital enough to offer us a world that can shake ours.
Mr. Enger is a gentle, jokey sort of writer, so although tragedy lurks at the edges of the story it never seriously encroaches on the atmosphere of rueful cheeriness ... Virgil Wander is full of such fading pleasures, a reminder that another oddity of the mythology of the Midwest is that it exists in a state of permanent twilight, always disappearing but never quite gone.
Readers who enjoy tenderhearted stories seasoned with a dash of intrigue will find much to like in Virgil Wander ... The novel's depiction of how broken souls can begin to mend, as Rune uses his kites to help Virgil heal and to bring himself closer to Alec's teenage son, Bjorn, and as Virgil and Nadine, Alec's widow, tentatively discover their mutual affection, is both thoughtful and moving. Greenstone may be a town shadowed by bad luck, but those who discover this gentle novel will consider themselves most fortunate.
A book like Virgil Wander, with so many characters and subplots, can make for a convoluted read. But Enger does a truly masterful job of synthesizing these various components into a compelling and easily digestible whole ... Virgil Wander is a fast-paced, humorous and mystical novel about hope, friendship, love and the relationship between a town and its people.
Leif Enger is back, and he brings his storytelling mastery with him ... the story unfolds through a cast of truly captivating characters, quirky and full of life ... a slow, nostalgic, superbly crafted stroll through town, memory, and relationships. The action unfolds in quiet tragedies. It doesn’t slam you; it slides up next to you and waits for its reader to take notice. I have been captured by this town, these people and their stories ... one to savour.
Greenstone is one of those folksy Minnesota towns just a little north of the literary territory of Lake Wobegon, full of characters doing their awkward best, with a touch of evil added by nihilist screenwriter Adam Leer, who has returned to his hometown for nefarious if not entirely defined purposes. Enger’s novel gives magical realism a homely Midwestern twist, and should have very broad appeal.
Enger takes readers on a magical mystery tour of a fictional town on the shores of Lake Superior, near Duluth ... Like Garrison Keillor on hallucinogens, this novel has a lot more imagination than coherence.