Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8: A Boy on a Horse


Sheriff Pym pays a visit to the DeCuellar’s home looking for Davy. Though Davy has not been by the house - one of the few places in town that Davy would clearly steer clear of as Mr. DeCuellar pointed out – the sheriff is confident that his men will catch the runaway by noon. The police do not find Davy by noon. In fact he eludes them for days.

The search for Davy Land expands beyond the small town and the number of policemen trying to find him. Sheriff Pym’s original presumption that Davy had escaped by foot turns out to be wrong, but they do not find out that the teenage had stolen a horse until days later. As Davy’s escape from jail becomes a more pressing topic for the police force, it also becomes most noticeable in the news.

Once the brutal teen who killed defenseless Bubby, Davy is repainted as mysterious, but entertaining. Even his fellow inmate Mighty Stinson attempts to get in on the attention, but his interview about Davy’s escape contradicts itself and the truth is never fully revealed. In truth, Stinson had been sound asleep when Davy lured the guard to his cell under the pretense of a malfunctioning toilet before knocking him unconscious and locking him in the cell with Stinson.

Three days after Davy’s escape from jail and there is still no sign of him. Still staying at the DeCuellar’s house, the Lands get their updates on the manhunt from Deputy Walt Stockard, who has a strong dislike for the sheriff. Apparently as the search wore on, more and more policemen began to leave the search party, begging off with excuses about family and work. It is only when a nearby farmer named Nelson Svedvig reports one of his horses being stolen and then wandering back onto his land do the police understand how Davy escaped so quickly and travelled so far.

The Lands return home and find a new sort of normalcy. Swede immediately goes back to writing her epic poem and sharing the story with Reuben as she furiously types away. Reading the newest addition, Reuben learns that Swede was unable to kill Valdez and he begins to realize that Valdez is not just a fictional character in the eyes of his sister. As news reporters continue to take delight in writing about Davy and the bizarre manner in which his escape has everyone rooting for him, Jeremiah becomes more reclusive, turning to the Bible for comfort.

An unusual snow and lightning storm hits the area and Reuben is reminded of his brother as he plays in the snow with Swede. Neither Reuben nor Swede return to school, taking advantage of their father’s sadness, but also understanding that they are only at home because he is not forcing them back to school. Swede continues to share her poetry with Reuben.

In the midst of the hero, Sunny, being hanged Swede chooses to have a woman other than his wife approach the man and kiss him. Reuben is put off by this idea but Swede insists on incorporating more women into her stories after realizing that her favorite author has turned every Western into a love story revolving around unimportant women.


Davy’s escape by horse is symbolic of the way in which Reuben sees his brother. To Reuben, Davy is a protector and savior of the family; he defended the family from intruders while avenging Swede’s kidnapping and he often stood up to be the man of the family when Jeremiah became too wrapped up in his religious studies. By stealing a horse, Davy fulfilled Swede’s love of Westerns and showed everyone that he was capable of outsmarting adults, which is something that Reuben always knew he was capable of.

The news of Davy’s escape travels fast and the newspaper uses a different tactic to describe the escaped prisoner. While Davy’s image had previously been built up and then torn down by the media, writers begin to out and out declare that Davy’s actions are a form of entertainment. Whereas Davy’s struggles had been used as a form of implicit entertainment before, his actions are now been prominently displayed as entertainment for the public. It is difficult to rally around someone accused of shooting two teenagers, but it is much easier to take enjoyment in a teenager outsmarting many adults.

While Davy’s fame is on the rise, Jeremiah’s mental state seems to be declining. Whereas Reuben had previously described his father as a heroic problem solver, Jeremiah is becoming more reclusive and withdrawn into himself. He finds comfort in the Bible, but is unwilling to share his religious experiences with Reuben when he had previously demonstrated a willingness to share by bringing Reuben to church.

Reuben and Swede grow closer as a result of Swede’s poetry. It has been established that Swede’s poetry is an outlet for all of the young girl’s feelings, but it becomes more apparent in this section that her poem also serves as a communication tool between her and Reuben. Much of Reuben and Swede’s time together is spent playing outside or scheming to avoid going back to school, but when they talk about her poetry the two are able to communicate at a more profound level.

One of the newest developments in Swede’s poetry is a shift in focus on the female characters. Perhaps it is because she realizes that men dominate her life, or perhaps it is because her favorite author does not properly write female characters, but Swede suddenly becomes interested in having more female characters in her poem. Perhaps this change in style can be attributed to her attack and once again her writing serves as an escape.