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'Virgil Wander' Tells The Story Of A Bad Luck Town In A Beautiful Place

Grove Atlantic

Editor's note: This piece was originally published on Oct. 23, 2018.

Life in a small Great Lakes city can be challenging. The weather is often rough, the economy depressed and the prospects few. Despite those challenges, these places can still be desirable for some.

While the title character of Minnesota writer Leif Enger’s new novel, Virgil Wander, is the protagonist, the town Enger imagines, Greenstone, Minn., is every bit as important a character.

"There's something really gothic about it. And also, there's this beautiful tension that comes from a place being that gorgeous and yet that difficult to make a living in," he explains. "So, it seemed like that would allow for a pretty good story to grow up there."

Virgil Wander is Enger’s first novel in a decade, and he says it came from a place of personal loneliness, a product of "writing something I felt I badly needed."

Enger notes there's often a pull and magnetism of old towns that are often filled with tragedy and sadness. To put it simply, Virgil Wander is essentially "a story about a bad luck town in a beautiful place," he says.

The novel brought Enger to Milwaukee recently for an event at the Oriental Theater, and he also stopped by the Lake Effect studio to tell Mitch Teich more about what makes life along the Great Lakes such a compelling writing subject: