Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 16 and Chapter 17: The Throbbing Heart of News and the Little Man’s Country


Reuben is doing chores for Roxanna when he spots a horse rider up on the hill and he knows instantly that it is Davy. Swede is too preoccupied with helping Roxanna bake her famous cinnamon rolls to notice Reuben slip out of the house. He makes the arduous climb up the snowy hill, doubting his vision of Davy the entire way. When he is over the crest of the hill and out of sight from anyone near Roxanna’s house, he sees Davy.

The reunion of brothers is filled with Reuben’s observation of his now thinner, older looking brother and telling him about Andreeson, the putrid fed. Reuben tries to get Davy to tell him where the older boy is living, but Davy refuses and instead asks about Roxanna. Davy insists that Reuben keep their reunion a secret from everyone, including Swede. He assures his younger brother that he is fine and finally reveals that he is living with man named Jape Waltzer. After Reuben blackmails his brother into seeing him again, threatening to tell Jeremiah about Davy’s appearance, they agree to meet again at night so that Davy can take Reuben to his temporary home.

When Reuben returns, Swede informs him that Jeremiah went driving with Andreeson to look for Davy, much to everyone’s surprise. Reuben spends the rest of the day with Roxanna and Swede, eating cinnamon rolls and learning about Butch Cassidy’s actual death - not the one reported from Bolivia by the news. According to Roxanna’s grandfather, Cassidy escaped from Bolivia and lived an anonymous life under the name Jonas R. Work and died in Kansas in 1936.

Later that night when he thinks everyone is asleep, Reuben sneaks out to the barn to meet Davy. Together they ride Davy’s borrowed horse, Fry. The come upon Waltzer’s cabin and Reuben is introduced to the formidable man as Davy takes care of the horse. Waltzer allows Reuben to ask him questions about why he lives so far out and why he took in Davy.

Waltzer explains that he had gone into town and was eating breakfast when he observed the deputy waiting outside for the owner of the Studebaker, Davy. Waltzer had cornered him in the alleyway outside and saved him from the deputy. Sara, Waltzer’s meek daughter, serves them dinner. Reuben instinctively bows his head in prayer before the meal, but Waltzer insists that Reuben thank him for the meal, not God.

As they are eating the terrible meal, a small pig comes flying out from the other room in the cabin where Sara had retreated to after serving dinner. Waltzer is angry with Sara for disturbing their dinner and forces her to apologize to the pig, Emil. During the commotion, Reuben begins to experience trouble breathing. Davy explains Reuben’s lung trouble to Waltzer, but the older man is not pleased with the explanation.

Waltzer begins to mock Reuben for the difficulty and refuses to believe that Reuben cannot breather; he insists that Reuben try to breathe and that if he actually tried to breathe, he would be able to. Reuben goes along with Waltzer’s instructions at first, knowing that they will do no good, but he finally snaps and shouts at Waltzer to shut up.

Reuben passes out from exhaustion and when he wakes up moments later. Davy is getting the horse ready to bring Reuben back to Roxanna’s. Reuben is relieved the leave, especially when Waltzer invites him back - “Come back and see us, Reuben. I’ll teach you how to breathe.”


Davy’s return to Reuben’s life illustrates the strong bond that the two share, but also reveals their growing differences. When Reuben spots the horse rider, he is certain that it is his brother. His first instinct is the connection that he and Davy share. Just as Jeremiah is lead to the Badlands in search of his son, Reuben blindly walks away from Roxanna’s in search of his brother. It is only later, when he has time to think, that Reuben begins to doubt himself: he questions whether it was actually Davy whom he had seen.

It is Davy and the brotherly bond is further explored when they are finally reunited. Perhaps it is because they have not seen each other for some time, but they fall into their old relationship where Davy is older and wiser than childlike Reuben, despite the fact that both boys have grown up considerably since they last saw each other. Reuben begs Davy for permission to tell someone about their meeting, but Davy resists; he only agrees to meet Reuben again when the younger boy blackmails him.

It is interesting to note the changes in Reuben when he is around Davy versus when is around Swede, Jeremiah, and Roxanna. They have seen him grow up and thus expect him to act more mature, but Davy still sees him as the boy he left months ago. Reuben expresses the need to tell someone about seeing his brother when Davy is in front of him, but as soon as he gets back to the house, he has no trouble keeping the secret.

Jape Waltzer is introduced as someone who is both benevolent for taking in Davy, but cruel in the way that he treats Sara and Reuben. As Reuben spends more time with Waltzer, it becomes apparent that the older man is the antithesis of Jeremiah. Both can be considered father figures to Davy, but they have very different approaches.

Whereas Jeremiah is a believer and humble man, Waltzer reprimands Reuben for thanking God for dinner and instead requests that Reuben thank him for the meal. No one thanks Sara, the person who prepared the meal. When Reuben has difficulty breathing, Jeremiah is a comfort and helps his son. In contrast, Waltzer berates the boy and makes fun of him. Where Jeremiah brought Reuben to life by demanding that he breathes, Waltzer engenders Reuben to pass out.