Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: "So Brave, Young and Handsome" by Leif Enger

Leif Enger blew me away last year with his first novel Peace Like a River, and he has done the same thing with So Brave, Young and Handsome, another thoughtful adventure tale that harkens back to a time in all our lives where the world was mostly unknown to us and it was scary, risky, but always had a sense of adventure in the dangers we undertook growing up. I have compared Enger to John Irving, which is what Peace Like A River reminded me of, but here, this is more of a classic western tale, like Cormac McCarthy but worth your time. We meet Monte Becket, struggling writer who gained success to early and cannot duplicate it, as he struggles with his writing quota on his Minnesota farm. In the midst of his struggle for the written page, Glendon Hale, a kindly old boat maker, wanders into his family’s life and enthralls them with his stories of where he has been and what he has done. Soon, on a whim (as well as a need to escape from his go-nowhere writing career) he accepts Glendon’s invite to head to Mexico to reconcile with Glendon’s lost love, Blue. He finds out early on that Glendon is a professional robber, and decides to follow help him on his journey toward redemption. From that one scene, which takes place on a train, the story is pure magic. In short, easy to read chapters, we follow Monte as he and Glendon travel to Mexico, meeting all kinds of different people. They meet a young outlaw named Hood full of life and hope, whose story and desires become the most tragic part of the story. At one point they stop at a carnival, where Hood becomes a cast member in a movie, which leads to the accident that seal his fate. This is the slowest part of the novel, only because Enger actually just slows down when everything else in the book his quick and fast-paced. This part of the novel also leads to the most entertaining part of the novel, which features Monte being held captive by the story’s antagonist, Charles Siringo. This guy comes of the pages as one hell of a frightening figure. His tenacity to catch Glendon, and the harm he does to Monte is appalling and puts the villainous cap on a brutal lawman instead of the brave outlaw. The ending, I must saw was very anti-climatic and a little disappointing, but that in no way casts a dark shadow over the proceeding excitement. There is nothing real special in the prose or in how the story’s action rises. It is just a great fun story that anyone with and open mind and an open heart will enjoy thoroughly. It is sad that Enger doesn’t right more. If a good director makes any of these books into a movie, it should make him a literary star, and people would be itching to read what he publishes. Until then, we have two books that are fantastic.
Rating: 5/5

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