I geek out a bit over local authors, mostly because there aren't a ton from Wisconsin and Minnesota. When I was choosing books for our cabin vacation, I knew I needed to finally make Virgil Wander a priority for the simple fact that Leif Enger is from the small Southwestern Minnesota town we were visiting! I'm talking small town situated on a lake, population 1,700. How cool to read a book by an author in their hometown?! Virgil Wander is a love letter to the Midwest and was filled with easter eggs that made me laugh, smile and nod my head saying "you betcha."
Virgil Wander is a down on his luck guy who has lived in the same small northern Minnesota town his entire life, above an old cinema that he owns and barely keeps the lights on. One evening, Virgil's car drifts off the road and lands in icy Lake Superior. Virgil is navigating getting his memory, language and body back after the accident, in a town that was once so familiar to him that now feels new. One day, a stranger with a kite comes into his life and unearths the memory of an unsolved town mystery, while also reminding Virgil why he stayed in his hometown of Greenstone, Minnesota.
Leif Enger's writing style is reminiscent of Fredrik Backman's. His writing style is quirky and literary, where he can say so many things in the matter of a five-word sentence. I loved that about this book. It also reminded me in ways of A Man Called Ove, which is a favorite book of mine.
I'm not sure this book will hit as hard if you are not from, or have resided in, rural Minnesota or Wisconsin. There are so many elements of the Midwest that are woven into this story that made it such a comfortable read. It felt like home. I would be curious to chat about this book with someone who is not from the Midwest. I think it would be entertaining to hear what parts stuck out to them as odd. Some that I can think of off the top of my head: sturgeons bigger than a person, fishing off the side of a highway with zero regard to safety, hometown festivals with bizarre names and themes, small town gossip, living in the same town your entire life and knowing every resident, having a wild animal as a pet, drinking strange Scandinavian liquor, riding a bike in the dead of winter, and being *mildly* obsessed with the only semi-celebrity to ever come out of your small town.
I loved reading about the residents of Greenstone and following along with Virgil's recovery. There are so many side stories woven into the main plot, and elements of suspense that were pleasant surprises. I fell in love with the town and its quirky residents.
Virgil Wander is a must read if you have a connection to Minnesota/Wisconsin and I truly believe that lovers of Backman's A Man Called Ove would find this one delightfully entertaining.
"For a man named Wander, I spent a lot of time in one place."
"A perilous beautiful move, choosing to throw yourself at the future, even if it means one day coming down in the sea."
Read if you liked:
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman