I Cheerfully Refuse

I Cheerfully Refuse

by Leif Enger

Narrated by David Aaron Baker

Unabridged — 11 hours, 55 minutes

I Cheerfully Refuse

I Cheerfully Refuse

by Leif Enger

Narrated by David Aaron Baker

Unabridged — 11 hours, 55 minutes

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Notes From Your Bookseller

Informed by traditional adventure stories, this is a timely and engaging novel written with a beautiful combination of infectious humor and vivid characters. While jostling with serious themes, I Cheerfully Refuse never loses its glorious optimism.

A storyteller “of great humanity and huge heart” (Minneapolis Star Tribune), Leif Enger debuted in the literary world with Peace Like a River, which sold more than a million copies and captured readers' hearts around the globe. Now comes a new milestone in this boldly imaginative author's body of work. Set in a not-too-distant America, I Cheerfully Refuse is the tale of a bereaved and pursued musician embarking under sail on a sentient Lake Superior in search of his departed, deeply beloved, bookselling wife. Rainy, an endearing bear of an Orphean narrator, seeks refuge in the harbors, fogs, and remote islands of the inland sea. Encountering lunatic storms and rising corpses from the warming depths, Rainy finds on land an increasingly desperate and illiterate people, a malignant billionaire ruling class, crumbled infrastructure, and a lawless society. Amid the Gulliver-like challenges of life at sea and no safe landings, Rainy is lifted by physical beauty, surprising humor, generous strangers, and an unexpected companion in a young girl who comes aboard. And as his innate guileless nature begins to make an inadvertent rebel of him, Rainy's private quest for the love of his life grows into something wider and wilder, sweeping up friends and foes alike in his strengthening wake.
I Cheerfully Refuse epitomizes the “musical, sometimes magical and deeply satisfying kind of storytelling” (Los Angeles Times) for which Leif Enger is cherished. A rollicking narrative in the most evocative of settings, this latest novel is a symphony against despair and a rallying cry for the future.
“A heart-racing ballad of escape, shot-through with villainy and dignity, humor and music. Like Mark Twain, Enger gives us a full accounting of the human soul, scene by scene, wave by wave.”-Josh Ritter, singer and author of The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 02/05/2024

The transcendent latest from Enger (Peace Like a River) is at once a dystopian love story, a nautical adventure, and a meditation on loss, kindness, and natural beauty. The story unfolds in a near-future America where the billionaire class has complete control and reading has been abandoned. Even so, narrator Rainy and his wife, Lark, have found happiness in a small town on the shores of Lake Superior. Their idyll ends with the arrival of a new boarder, Kellan, a fugitive from a billionaire’s work camp. After Lark is murdered by Kellan’s pursuers, Rainy leaves his home in a small sailboat, both to escape the killers and in the hope that he’ll find Lark’s spirit among the islands where they fell in love. He weathers violent storms while sailing to various lakeside towns, where outsiders are easy targets for extortion and robbery. In a desperate world where kindness is a luxury, Rainy befriends the few people willing to help him, including a young girl who joins him on his journey, and discovers a path forward. In lesser hands, Enger’s story could veer toward fatalism, but it’s clear he holds the same infectious optimism as Lark, who believes “the best futures are unforeseen.” This captivating narrative brims with hope. (Apr.)

From the Publisher

Praise for I Cheerfully Refuse

Barnes & Noble's April Book Club Pick

#11 on Amazon Editors’ Best Books of the Year So Far List

An April Indie Next Pick

An Amazon Top 10 Editors Pick for the Month of April

A Most Anticipated Book of 2024 from Literary Hub

“The sweetest apocalyptic novel yet . . . Nobody describes profound joy or “blazing love” with such infectious abandon as Enger, and it’s a pleasure to be back under his influence . . . But be forewarned: Maniacal forces looming in the shadows of this novel will not stay in abeyance for long . . . In his previous novels, Enger may have whistled past the cemetery, but this time he’s digging deeper and even dancing with the bones . . . Enger casts this adventure as an Orphean quest, but once Rainy takes on a young sidekick who’s also on the lam, the enterprise feels like 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' reconceived by Cormac McCarthy.” — Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Stunning, almost pitch-perfect, with a harrowing tale and beguiling characters . . . with all its tragedy and darkness, this novel is not depressing; it feels buoyant . . . A rare, remarkable book to be kept and reread—for its beauty of language, its gentle wisdom and its steady, unflagging hope.” — Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“As readable as anything [Enger] has written, [I Cheerfully Refuse] refreshingly concerns itself less with the miraculous than with what is right before our eyes, even when we want to look away . . . In Mr. Enger's hands Lake Superior becomes a character of its own: beautiful, tempestuous, a vast chasm between two nations . . . An accomplishment that is beacon enough." — Michael O'Donnell, Wall Street Journal

“An unusual and meaningful surprise awaits readers of Enger’s latest, which takes place largely on Lake Superior, as a man named Rainy tries to reunite with his beloved wife, Lark . . . [Enger’s] retelling of Orpheus (who went to the underworld to rescue his wife) contains the authentic hope of a born optimist.” — Los Angeles Times

“In a rickety sailboat on storm-tossed Lake Superior, a grieving musician flees a powerful enemy . . . Leif Enger’s latest novel steers a harrowing course through a broken world. Yes, it’s grim, but in Enger’s capable hands it’s also a riveting story of resilience and kinship.” — Christian Science Monitor, “10 Best New Books of April”

“This story is really something. It’s startling. It’s a little close to home. Somehow it’s at the same time gentle. Rainy’s flight feels like a warm and sweet and loving sort of nightmare . . . We are in the hands of a good-hearted storyteller, the sort of writer who can create a dark, frightening story while nevertheless reminding us of goodness, decency and reasons to go on.” — Mankato Free Press

“Enger's modern epic follows Rainy, a musician in an environmentally and politically dystopian future . . . The story clearly borrows from the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which an enchanting lyre player follows his wife into Hades, but [Rainy's] larger-than-life misadventures also evoke Odysseus, Don Quixote, and Gulliver. It’s a book that loves books . . . and the many literary references underscore a timely theme: the vital, transformative power of books, especially as weapons against willful ignorance.” — Bustle

“[I Cheerfully Refuse] evolves into a retelling of the Orpheus myth, leavened with a healthy dose of the Odyssey, and told in the tradition of the American ballad with the aesthetic sensibilities of Amor Towles . . . Indeed, Enger, like Towles, is one of those writers who make the process seem easy (though you know it’s not), as if the Leif Enger project itself is to make the lyrical seem everyday . . . Leif Enger’s books are about grief, but they are also about the life that beauty can provide if you’re brave enough to sit with it.” — World

“[I Cheerfully Refuse] is chockful of wistful melancholy, sad wisdom, shadowed sunshine, lambent darkness, and salvaged treasures . . . The true triumph that drives the book is Rainy’s first-person voice . . . Carried along by this empathetic and lovable voice, the reader will endure privation and threats with equanimity, and receive the moments of jubilation and reward with joy . . . Rainy's hegira offers love and hate, frustration and catharsis in equal measure.” — Paul Di Filippo, Locus Magazine

“An affecting story of love, loss and loyalty that’s also a colorful and deeply imagined tale of maritime adventure and survival . . . Some night, when the wind rattles the shutters and raindrops pelt the windows, curl up with this good-hearted novel and imagine yourself sharing a rickety sailboat with Rainy and Sol. You’ll be guaranteed a rewarding journey.” — Bookreporter

“The transcendent latest from Enger (Peace Like a River) is at once a dystopian love story, a nautical adventure, and a meditation on loss, kindness, and natural beauty . . . This captivating narrative brims with hope.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Magnificent . . . Comet-bright and eloquent, I Cheerfully Refuse is a perfect novel that treats dystopian circumstances as transient so long as literacy remains.” — Foreword Reviews, starred review

“The novel’s ruined world, marked by book burnings, anti-intellectual sentiment, environmental disruption and casual brutality, will feel entirely too plausible for readers. Yet within its dystopian landscape, Enger’s story incorporates a strain of fabulism . . . Like turbulent Lake Superior, I Cheerfully Refuse is filled with polarities that should contradict but somehow, instead, cohere: hopeless moments infused with light and shocking acts of cruelty depicted through beautiful, memorable prose. Although the struggle to survive leaves room for little else, Rainy still finds delight in simple, ordinary things: the post-storm sun or a ripe tomato. It’s in these moments of earnest wonder that I Cheerfully Refuse is most compelling, like the brief but glorious clearing of a tempestuous sky.” — BookPage, starred review

“There’s both a playfulness and a seriousness of purpose to the latest from the Minnesota novelist, a spirit of whimsy that keeps hope flickering even in times of darkest despair.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Enger's prose is beautiful to behold." — Booklist

“[Enger] has a knack for tackling difficult, troubled subjects and yet claiming a hopeful optimism as our right. Enger does it again with this picaresque tale set in a near-future America.” — Parade

“Part sea adventure, part thriller, with a little magic along the way. It’s a love letter to bookstores, to reading, and to hope in a dark world, told in the lush prose we expect from the author of Peace Like a River." — St. Paul Pioneer Press

I Cheerfully Refuse—an odyssey whose Odysseus is also part Aeneas, Huck Finn, and perhaps most of all Orpheus—is one of a kind . . . The tale will absorb you utterly, and there is much to mourn here. But it is oh-so-breathtakingly beautiful.” —Current

“This harrowing, but beautifully told, tale is a sly paean to books, language, love and the transformative power of receiving and extending kindness. I cheerfully endorse it.” — Erin Kodicek, Senior Editor at Amazon specializing in Literary Fiction

“A book that reads like music, both battle hymn and love song for our world. A true epic—heartbreaking, terrifyingly prophetic, but above all, radically hopeful.” — Violet Kupersmith, author of Build Your House Around My Body

“A heart-racing ballad of escape, shot-through with villainy and dignity, humor and music. Like Mark Twain, Enger gives us a full accounting of the human soul, scene by scene, wave by wave.” — Josh Ritter, singer and author of The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All

Praise for Virgil Wander

“Enger deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Richard Russo and Thomas McGuane. Virgil Wander is a lush crowd-pleaser about meaning and second chances and magic.”— New York Times Book Review

“[Virgil Wander] brings out the charm and downright strangeness of the defiantly normal.” ― Wall Street Journal

“Enger is a writer to be appreciated by anyone who cares about words.” — Seattle Times

Praise for Peace Like a River

“Here is an author we can trust and who we are willing to follow anywhere. Enger strikes just the right balance of instinctive storytelling, narrative play and pretty prose.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Book lovers inclined to complain that novelists don’t write gripping yarns anymore would do well to pick up a copy of Peace Like a River, a compelling blend of traditional and artfully offbeat storytelling . . . a miracle well worth witnessing.”— Boston Globe

“The narrative picks up power and majesty, then thunders to a tragic, yet joyous, climax.” — People

“Gripping… Filled with sharp prose and vividly realized scenes, [Peace Like a River] has the makings of that rarest commodity: the literate bestseller.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Enger is a masterful storyteller . . . possessed of a seemingly effortless facility for the stiletto-sharp drawing of wholly believable characters.” — Chicago Tribune

Library Journal


Lark and her husband Rainy, who narrates this novel, eke out a living on the U.S. shore of an angry Lake Superior. She runs a bookstore, even though few people still read physical books; he plays bass in a band and does odd jobs. They inherit an old sailboat from a friend and rent out their home's attic space as needed, including to a fugitive named Kellan, who overstays his welcome. A ruling-class figure named Werryck appears, seeking drugs Kellan stole, and his men kill Lark in their unsuccessful search for the drugs. Rainy, sick with grief and hounded by Werryck, launches his sailboat into the unforgiving lake, looking for escape and solace. After many hardships and adventures, he is captured and jailed on a hospital boat where horrible human experiments are conducted, but music saves him from torture, love for others saves his soul, and an unexpected mutiny frees him. Enger (Virgil Wander) tells a beautiful and quixotic story of love, loss, and the quest for life. His complex characters fight the age-old battle of good vs. evil. The story is compelling, terrifying and, in the end, satisfying. VERDICT This very readable and highly recommended novel's familiar setting in an unfamiliar future will resonate with all readers.—Joanna M. Burkhardt

MAY 2024 - AudioFile

With a tranquil steadiness and an ear for sharp poetic detail, David Aaron Baker captures a very American, or perhaps a very post-American, voice in this postapocalyptic tale of a man who witnesses a world unraveling. Books are banned. Food is scarce. And murders go unpunished. Our hero sails across the Great Lakes in search of old memories and a shelter in the storm. When he rescues a clever, world-weary 9-year-girl from the clutches of indentured servitude, he finds he can no longer escape an unhinged world. Baker captures climate change, petty dictators, and mindless torture with a sense of eerie gloom, but he is at his best reflecting the heart, humor, and humanity of a soul who won't give up hope. B.P. © AudioFile 2024, Portland, Maine

Kirkus Reviews

Amid the dystopian collapse of the near future, a musician embarks on a quixotic voyage from the shore of Lake Superior.

There’s both a playfulness and a seriousness of purpose to the latest from the Minnesota novelist, a spirit of whimsy that keeps hope flickering even in times of darkest despair. Things have gone dangerously dark along the North Shore, and likely for the country as a whole. A comet is coming that augurs ill, a pandemic has wreaked havoc with the public health, an autocratic despot and raging populism have made books and booksellers all but treasonous. There are corpses floating in the lake from climate change, and there are numerous instances of people swallowing something that kills them; the dead are generally considered seekers of whatever comes next (which has to be better than this) rather than suicides. As narrator Rainy sets the scene, “The world was so old and exhausted that many now saw it as a dying great-grand on a surgical table, body decaying from use and neglect, mind fading down to a glow.” Rainy is a bass player in bar bands, a jack of a variety of trades, and devoted husband to Lark, a bibliophile who runs the local bookstore. Before the collapse of the publishing industry, a cult author had been set to publish a volume with the same title as this novel, and finding one of the few advance copies has been like a holy grail for Lark. Then a copy finds her, courtesy of a fugitive pursued by the powers that be, and whatever tranquility Lark and Rainy had achieved is shattered. Rainy takes to the lake to escape the fugitive’s pursuers and reunite with Lark. He experiences a variety of hardship, challenge, and adventure, yet somehow lives to tell the tale that is this novel.

The novel’s voice remains engaging, and its spirit resilient, against some staggeringly tough times.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940159367631
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 04/02/2024
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 307,982
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