Readers who enjoy tenderhearted stories seasoned with a dash of intrigue will find much to like in Virgil Wander, Leif Enger's (Peace Like a River) third novel. By the shore of Lake Superior, the town of Greenstone, Minn., is home to the eponymous narrator. Virgil's near-fatal automobile plunge into the lake is only the first of several events--including a death by giant sturgeon and a near electrocution caused by a wayward kite--that make life there seem unusually dangerous. Things have gotten so depressed that the town, "full of people who could make you sad just by strolling into view," decides to name its festival "Hard Luck Days."
Employed as the city clerk by day, Virgil also owns the failing Empress Theater, which boasts a cache of classic films stolen by a previous owner. As he recovers from his car accident, Virgil invites Rune Eliassen, a Norwegian maker of exotic kites, to share his apartment above the Empress. Rune has left his home north of the Arctic Circle to visit the place where, unbeknownst to him until recently, he fathered a son almost half a century earlier.
Virgil is a patient, observant storyteller, qualities that extend even to his account of the discovery that a homegrown terrorist may be plotting a spectacular bombing in Greenstone. The novel's depiction of how broken souls can begin to mend 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. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer