Duluth scored a literary coup yesterday when award-winning, multimillion-copy bestselling author Leif Enger launched his new book, “Virgil Wander,” here.
One of the reasons we were able to get him here versus, say, Minneapolis or New York or San Francisco, is because, as of seven weeks ago, Enger and his wife Robin live in Duluth. What a boon for our (relatively) remote city on the shores of Lake Superior!
Most news stories will say it took the Minnesota-born Enger, who is best known for his debut novel “Peace Like a River,” ten years to write his new novel. During questioning after his reading at Zenith Books, he said it actually only took him four years to write “Virgil” and that he spent the previous years writing 400 pages of something else that didn’t work out – it didn’t have the vital combination of character, setting, and story.
Enger said another thing that delayed his writing was a “dark patch” due to the failing health of his and his wife’s parents. Plus he contracted meningitis, which I suspect is is a good excuse to delay just about anything.
The novel’s setting is the mythical town of “Greenstone, Minnesota,” which he said is an amalgam of Silver Bay, Beaver Bay and Grand Marais – small towns along Lake Superior’s North Shore. It’s the story of Virgil Wander, a movie house owner who survives a plunge in his car into Lake Superior. He loses his memory and language, awakening to an unfamiliar world. He pieces his life back together with the help of “affable and curious locals.”
The promotional blurb about the book on Goodreads says, “With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a master storyteller.”
During his reading, Enger said the owner of an Art Deco movie house in Florida inspired the main character of Virgil. The passion of the owner to restore the theater stuck with Enger and emerged when he was fishing his subconscious for ideas for his new novel.
A hike on a hill above Beaver Bay with one of his sons inspired Enger to set the novel on the North Shore, and then the story came to him.
When a member of the audience commented about his use of humor in the book, Enger said he wanted to write something he would enjoy because he’d be “spending a long time with it.”
Before and after the reading, audience members feasted upon snickerdoodle cookies and brownies made by Robin. I even took a photo of them. Why? Must be because I am so affable! No, really, I thought that was cute, supportive, and very Minnesotan.
“Virgil Wander” is now in my pile of books on my bedside table. Can’t wait to read it!