My quest to read outside my bubble continues. I've dabbled in sci-fi. I've tried fantasy. I've even recently finished a few YA novels. Virgil Wander brings me something completely different. Very, very rarely do I read anything with a contemporary label. The book club label is a huge deal breaker for me. While this book checked both of those boxes, I found myself drawn to it. For starters, I've read Peace Like a River by the same author. I highly recommend it. Secondly, the book is set along the North Shore in Minnesota. Typically I stay away from books set in my home state of Minnesota. Minnesotans tend to be over stereotyped and given a cartoon-like treatment no thanks to Fargo. The North Shore setting called to me. If you've never been to the North Shore (i.e. Duluth), make the trip. Make it four times so you can experience each of the season.
The title suggests this book is about one man, Virgil Wander. However, Virgil Wander is just one man. The town of Greenstone is the real star of this book. The book opens with Virgil being released from the hospital after driving his car over a cliff in an accident that should have killed him. Instead, he is back living above his old movie theater, trying to establish some normalcy (and language skills). Shortly after Virgil returns to town, a stranger appears bringing with him an old VW van and an assortment of kites. Virgil and the town take the stranger in. Rune becomes sort of a rock star in Greenstone.
Greenstone is a fictional town. Anyone who lives in Minnesota or is familiar with the area would tell you it feels real. You could drive along the North Shore and find ten towns just like the fictional Greenstone. A quick Google search tells me there is a Greenstone Lake near Ely, Minesota. That's not surprising considering Minnesota is the land of 10,000 (actually more) lakes. They can't all be named Round Lake or Long Lake.
It seems a little cheesy to say the story that follows Rune's arrival is heartwarming. I'm going to say it any way. It just seems to be the only word that fits. It is obvious the author is from Minnesota. He manages to weave Minnesota's small town charm into every page. I found this book comforting. It felt like home. As someone who has spent her entire life in one Minnesota small town or another, I felt like I could easily name people in my own life who mirrored characters in the book.
This book is easily one of the best books I have read all year. I would recommend it to anyone, anywhere in the world.