Friday, February 29, 2008

So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

A friend who had read this before I did described the book as cinematic and I'd have to agree. While reading it, I could simultaneously see the whole story play out on a big, letterboxed screen so, if it were a film, So Brave is part buddy picture, part road movie and part Peckinpah Western, though one set in 1915, as the last vestiges of the iconic American West were dying for good.

I was a huge fan of Enger's debut novel Peace Like A River which catapulted him to some fame and acclaim. Naturally, there had to be some real pressure to write something on par with it but I think he has acquitted himself, admirably. Enger writes as beautifully as I remembered and the book is at turns exciting, funny, sad and redeeming.

So Brave is set in Minnesota in 1915 where Monte Becket, a novelist with one book and some fame and acclaim to his name (hmmm), lives with his wife and son. While struggling to write his next book, he sees a man come down the river on an unusual craft that he pilots standing up. The pilot, Glendon Hale, is a charming enigma. Slowly, Glendon reveals he is a former bank robber and outlaw, who has lived quietly for several years, building his signature boat and staying out of reach of the law's long arm. Despite being seemingly at peace, Hale is burdened by regret for walking out on his wife, Blue, more than 20 years before, when he was a very different person and what Glendon believes he must do is apologize to Blue, plain and simple, no expectations. A real friendship develops between Monte and Glendon and the novelist accompanies the ex-outlaw

Along the way, the pair are doggedly pursued by ex-Pinkerton Charlie Siringo (a real and fascinating historical figure in his own right), befriended by aspiring cowboy Hood Roberts, and reacquainted with sharpshooter Deep Breath Darla before reaching California, where Blue is believed to live.

I totally respect that Enger didn't rush out another novel to ride the success of Peace Like A River but I hope it won't be another six years before he regales us again with another magnificent story. The book won't be in stores until May so special order it or reserve it now so as not to forget.

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