Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 14 and Chapter 15: The Skin Bag and Under the Gibbon Moon


Over a delicious dinner that night, the Lands learn more about Roxanna Cawley. Her mother died when her family was moving to Lawrence, Montana, where her father eventually opened up a movie theater. As Swede quizzes Roxanna about the B-list movie stars that visited her father’s establishment Reuben notices his father’s contentment. The narrator reasons that Jeremiah’s happiness must be due to the warm meal and the company of a woman, something he has not had since his wife left. Reuben remarks, though, that it is a pity that Roxanna is not beautiful.

That night Reuben dreams that a man steals his breath to fill up a bag made of skin. Unable to breath in reality as well as his subconscious, Reuben wakes up in the middle of the night. Jeremiah is still too weak from his bout with pneumonia to perform the usual routine of hitting Reuben’s back in hopes of breaking up whatever is clogging his swampy lungs and thus the responsibility falls to Roxanna. Reuben wakes up the next morning and is eager to join Swede outside in the freshly fallen snow, but finds that he is still having trouble breathing.

Swede returns later in the afternoon. The two siblings fight over the fact that their stay with Roxanna is not helping Davy until Reuben concedes to his younger sister. They make amends, agreeing that Roxanna is both kind and trustworthy. They also come to the conclusion that they could not leave even if they wanted to because the snowplows have not gone by and they probably will not be for some time, according to Roxanna. As they wait for the plows, Swede pesters Roxanna incessantly once she learns that her grandfather had run into Butch Cassidy and they were friends.

The snow plows clear the road and the Lands are free to leave. Jeremiah insists that they leave the following day, much to Reuben, Swede, and even Roxanna’s disappointment. Instead of leaving the next day, the Lands go on a picnic with Roxanna. Though it is wintertime and freezing cold in the Badlands, there is a place where the ground is heated to summertime temperatures by underground volcanic activity. As they are enjoying the picnic and warm atmosphere, Martin Andreeson approaches.

Though Roxanna knows nothing of the Lands’ situation, she remains quiet while Jeremiah and Andreeson converse. Andreeson admits that he knows Davy is somewhere in the Badlands because two pigs went missing and he asks Jeremiah for help in finding Davy, suggesting that family members have previously led investigators to missing persons by supernatural means.

Andreeson suggests that Jeremiah might lead him to Davy, but Jeremiah is reluctant. He defends himself as a man of faith, not spookism, despite what Andreeson had heard from Mr. Holgren. Andreeson gives Jeremiah his business card and departs.


The introduction of Roxanna as a new character is important because she is the first female character to integrate herself into the Land family. Only Reuben’s mother, Mrs. DeCuellar, and Birdie are drawn out as full characters, but they do not connect with the Land family in the same way. Reuben’s mother and Mrs. DeCuellar are women of the Land’s past life in Roofing and while at August’s house, Reuben connects with August, not Birdie.

Roxanna, in contrast to the other female characters, is single and shares many connections with the Land family even though they just met. Her knowledge of the West and one of Swede’s favorite cowboys, Butch Cassidy, allow for Swede to bond with the older women immediately and demonstrate the growing number of parallels between Swede and Roxanna. Roxanna saves Reuben when Jeremiah is too weak to help him with his breathing in the middle of the night, forging a connection between Reuben and Roxanna that is most similar to parent and child.

Jeremiah also develops a friendly relationship with Roxanna. Reuben describes his father’s ease and happiness on the first night at Roxanna’s and admits that Roxanna could be a replacement for their mother. This is the first time since leaving Roofing that Reuben mentions his mother and it is the first time that Reuben discusses her as someone in their past, someone that the family could move beyond. Roxanna is a representation of the family moving beyond their tragic past; as the Lands get closer to Roxanna, they move farther away from their mother.

The reappearance of Andreeson is also important. Though, Reuben has previously describe Andreeson as a horrible person, here he admits that Andreeson is their source of information on Davy. It is also apparent that Andreeson is genuinely interested in finding Davy and his appeal for help from Jeremiah is an attempt to save Davy from his own actions rather than to destroy his life.