Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 12 and Chapter 13: At War with This Whole World and Something Warm


The three Lands leave August and Birdie’s house to head West after Davy, who was presumably driving the old Studebaker that August had given him. No one knows exactly where Davy is headed, but Jeremiah decides on the Badlands. Swede, in her love for the West and all things Western, chronicles their journey on her typewriter. Her writing forces Reuben to think about whether he really wants Davy to return home; Davy’s return means that he will be in jail.

They stop the airstream trailer in Linton, North Dakota to have a meal and for Jeremiah to take a quick nap. While their father is asleep, Swede notices that Andreeson has followed them and is parked across the street watching them. Swede and Reuben decide that it will be best to avoid Andreeson because they have done nothing wrong, but he might try to stop them from following Davy. As they are eating dinner however, Andreeson knocks on the door of the trailer.

Jeremiah is honest with Andreeson; no one knows where Davy is and Davy did stop by August and Birdie’s house. It is clear that Jeremiah is angry that Andreeson has followed them and kicks him out of the trailer just as Swede is returning from the nearby gas station.

Swede is anxious to leave town immediately, but Jeremiah is still upset about seeing Andreeson and tries to distract the children with the idea of making pancakes. Swede protests and eventually Jeremiah gives in to both of Swede’s demands; they eat cold cereal and leave well before sunrise.

Continuing their drive across North Dakota, Jeremiah is reluctant to stop for gasoline to refuel the trailer. At first Reuben thinks it is because they have reserves, but then he sees policemen at every gas station that they pass. He knows the policemen are looking for them, but strangely enough no one spots them with their green car and airstream trailer.

Reuben knows that all of policemen at the gas stations was Andreeson’s doing, but he is curious why Andreeson himself is not after them. Swede confesses that while Andreeson was in the trailer in Linton, she snuck out to fill his gas tank with maple syrup, simultaneously ruining his car and any chance of them having pancakes that day.

They continue to drive, putting distance between them and Andreeson, and they still have not stopped for gas. As they are about to go to sleep one night, Swede asks Reuben what he thinks about none of the policemen seeing them when they passed the gas stations. Reuben is unsure, but it is possible that Jeremiah had prayed for them to remain invisible to law enforcement. Swede pushes the limits of Jeremiah’s abilities and questions why couldn’t their father simply pray for a full tank of gas.

It is at that moment that Reuben confesses to Jeremiah’s other miracles: his survival at birth, the levitation, and fixing the spot of Swede’s saddle. Swede is astounded that Reuben had not told her before and Reuben admits that he is also surprised that he had not told his sister. Swede is further perplexed that she never noticed that her saddle was altered and Reuben notes that this is the standard reaction to miracles. Instead of being shocked that a miracle occurred, people are shocked that they did not notice.

The following morning the propane tanks runs out of fuel and with no miracle to refill that tank, everyone is cold and miserable. Only Jeremiah’s singing can calm down Reuben and Swede. With their spirits higher, they press on but they are still not able to find a gas station because it is Sunday and everything is closed. They come upon a closed gas station called Dale’s Oil Company. Dale is long gone, but a woman named Roxanna decides to help them out and allows them to fill the gas tank and even invites them to stay the night in the house’s extra rooms.


The language that Reuben and Swede use to refer to Andreeson is particularly harsh and clearly denotes him as enemy number one. The Lands have had several enemies before Andreeson: Israel Finch, Tommy Basca, and one could even argue for Davy as an enemy to the family. But the way in which Reuben and Swede addressed their former enemies differed greatly. Swede tackled Finch and Basca through the fictional character of Valdez and Reuben refused to acknowledge them as anything other than horrible boys who hurt his family, but both children deal with Andreeson as an enemy by referring to him only in the form of insults such as “the putrid fed” (p. 169) or “stinker” (p.157).

Although Reuben is the narrator of Peace Like a River, Swede can also be considered as a narrator. When the family leaves their home to pursue Davy, Swede begs her father to allow her to bring her typewriter. She chronicles their adventures and writes numerous fictional stories while they traverse North Dakota. Their style of narration, however, is very different. Reuben is an observer and although he frequently admonishes himself for missing important details, he has a sharp eye for an eleven year old. Swede, meanwhile, narrates imagined worlds and fictionalizes her own life when writing of their adventuress.

It is interesting to note the decline of Jeremiah’s presence in this section of the novel. Reuben’s narrative begins the book with Jeremiah dominating his life - literally bringing him back to life - and his miracles have a large impact on the young boy. In these chapters, Jeremiah remains somewhat reclusive and a mystery. It is not clear whether he has performed a miracle by allowing them to pass by the policemen unseen or allowing them to travel far beyond the means of the gas in their tank.

In contrast, the relationship between Swede and Reuben grows. In their father’s absence, the two talk even more - Reuben reveals Jeremiah’s previous miracles - and they rely upon each other for advice. Swede’s questions about everything, but particularly Davy and Jeremiah, push Reuben to think beyond what is in front of him. As a narrator grounded in the reality around him, Reuben does not often pose “what if” scenarios, but Swede often does and it makes Reuben think.

One poignant moment in chapter twelve comes when Swede asks Reuben whether he really wants Davy to come back to Roofing. Surely his return will mean that he is closer to home, but he will also be in jail. Reuben’s response to this question demonstrates the difficulty that he has with conceiving of ideas that are beyond what is at hand. It is ironic that Reuben is ill equipped to handle hypothetical situations because they are not grounded in reality, but at the same time he easily accepts Jeremiah’s miracles as everyday occurrences.