Big Books & Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller

Talking Volumes: Leif Enger on ‘I Cheerfully Refuse’

Dystopian novels aren’t known for being hopeful.

But that’s exactly what Leif Enger brings to the genre with his new book, “I Cheerfully Refuse.”

The beloved Minnesota author joined MPR News host Kerri Miller at the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing on June 4 for a special “on the road” version of Talking Volumes.

Their conversation revolved around books: the unpredictable journey of writing them, the sometimes haphazard way of finding them, the way a good book leaves a mark that cannot be erased. As Enger’s protagonist Rainy says, “I banged and barged through dozens and hundreds of books. Did I understand it? Not by half, but when it thunders you know your chest is shaking.”

They also touched on how to maintain hope when the world around you feels like it’s going up in flames. “I Cheerfully Refuse” is set in the “near future” when climate change, wealth concentration and religious zealots who are proudly illiterate flourish.

But Rainy and his cherished wife, Lark, “refuse apocalypse in all its forms and work cheerfully against it.” When tragedy strikes, and Rainy is forced to set out in a small sailboat on a near-sentient Lake Superior, hoping to reunite with Lark, the quest unfolds.

Spoiler alert: Despair never wins.


  • Leif Enger is the author of many books, including the 2001 breakout hit, “Peace Like a River.” His new novel is “I Cheerfully Refuse.” Before he became an author, Enger worked as a reporter for MPR News. He lives in Duluth with his wife, Robin.

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