Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 10 and Chapter 11: The Substance of Things Hoped For and The Last Thing He Would Do


Early in January, the Lands receive a postcard from Jeremiah’s old friend August Schultz, the same friend whose house they had stayed at when Reuben shot his first goose. In a cryptic message they learn that Andreeson has been by to warn them about contact with Davy and that Davy himself has also been to their house. They are all overjoyed to hear that Davy is all right and Swede in particular seems happy that the postcard from August is similar enough to a Christmas card from Davy.

Though Jeremiah had been planning for the family to go west after Davy since he received the airstream trailer on Christmas Day, he begins to prepare at an even faster rate. He sells a good portion of their furniture to buy groceries for traveling. Dr. Nokes questions Jeremiah’s determination to leave but Jeremiah responds with “I have the substance of things hoped for. I have the anticipation of things unseen” (p.130).

On January 22nd, the Lands leave behind their hometown of Roofing and head to August’s house in North Dakota. As they leave town Reuben imagines seeing Bethany Orchard and saying goodbye to his crush. Instead they see Israel Finch’s grandfather. Though it could be the fact that he is an alcoholic and quite old, Reuben recognizes the sadness in the old man’s eyes.

They drive on in the freezing cold when suddenly they spot a dead crow in the middle of the road. Jeremiah admits that he has never seen a crow, much less a dead one in North Dakota. It is surprising then when they see another trampled crow further along the road.

They arrive safely at August’s house, but Reuben is concerned about where there will go after stopping in North Dakota. The Lands do not know where Davy will go, but they will pursue him to the best of their ability. Reuben’s fear about following Davy is calmed by August and his wife, Birdie, describing Davy’s short visit. Though Davy seems unaware of the danger he is in - he rejects Birdie’s idea to turn himself in - he seems to be doing well overall. After two days of riding the stolen horse Davy hitched a ride with a man in an Oldsmobile filled with musical instruments.

Before Reuben can ask more questions, Jeremiah urges his two youngest children to go to bed. Though their room is freezing cold, Reuben and Swede do their best to stay awake and eavesdrop on the adults. Jeremiah confirms that what the newspapers have been writing is true; Davy did shoot Finch and Basca. There is sadness in Jeremiah’s voice when he says that Reuben was the only witness to the murders and that he wished he could have traded places with his son.

The following morning Reuben is the first to wake up and he notices a change in the air. He is unsure what has changed and August, the second person up in the house, says it is the fog. Reuben bonds with his father’s lifelong friend when they decide to go horseback riding. At first Reuben is afraid to ride the horse, but as they make their way through the fog he becomes more comfortable.

August leads the horse to Jeremiah’s old house, a worn down place that Reuben has never been to before and the briefly speak about Reuben’s grandparents. They observe the comedic interaction between a turkey and current five-year-old resident, Gerald, when he is taking food to the kittens in the barn. The turkey sneaks up on poor Gerald and steals away the oatmeal while Gerald retreats inside. August and Reuben return home to a glorious breakfast feast, and Reuben doesn’t have the heart to tell his father that his childhood home is dilapidated.


Jeremiah’s renewed health brings him out of his depression and makes him once again a passionate man who is devoted to his children. There is a sense of hope that comes along with his desire to go after Davy; that the Lands’ luck is about to turn. Hope is a major theme of the novel: despite the family’s setbacks in the early chapters, the Lands pursue Davy with hope.

Reuben and Swede follow their brother because he is someone that they idolize, someone they look up to. In many ways Reuben and Swede are still connected to their older brother; when they are unsuccessful in the attempt to break him out of jail, they learn that he had already done the deed on their own. Jeremiah on the other hand is guided by his faith. He is invigorated by scripture and tells Dr. Nokes that he has hope for the future. For the Land family, hope comes in different forms.

While at August and Birdie’s house Reuben wakes up earlier than everyone else in the house and senses that something in the world around him has changed. August explains the shared feeling of change with the looming fog outside. The symbolism of the fog lifting as August and Reuben ride the horses together has several interpretations. First, the fog could be symbolic of the change that Reuben senses in the air; now that they have heard more about Davy, they will be able to follow him. Before they arrived in North Dakota, the Lands were in the dark about Davy’s life, but they learn a lot about his well being from August.

Another possible interpretation of the fog is as hope itself, and the change that is has brought upon the Lands. Immediately after Davy was put in jail, Jeremiah shrunk away from being the figurehead in the family. Now that his hope and faith in finding Davy have been renewed, it is possible that things will drastically change for the Lands.

An additional explanation for the fog is Reuben’s learning more about his father. The change in the air that Reuben senses parallels the changes he sees in his father’s behavior and mood when he decides to go after Davy. When August and Reuben go out for their ride together, Reuben learns a lot about his father, his childhood, and his grandparents. The clearing of the fog is an analogy for Reuben finding out more about his mysterious father.