Sunday, February 24, 2008

So Brave, Young and Handsome

Like me, many readers fell in love with Enger’s stunning first novel Peace Like a River when it came out in 2001 and will be anxious to read his new novel So Brave, Young and Handsome. Right from the beginning, however, I was disappointed. The set-up is a writer in 1915 Minnesota, who can’t produce a follow-up to his bestselling first novel. This took me out of the story wondering how much of what he was writing was personal.

Monte Becket can write a 1,000 words before breakfast but he can’t form them in to anything anyone wants to read. Then he meets a mysterious older man, who catches Monte’s imagination and eventually leads him on a journey of redemption that will take him far from his family and the life he has know. This is a cowboy story about the last days of that world.

Enger is a mesmerizing storyteller. He loves language and uses it beautifully. The concise, unique and beautifully descriptive sentences are there once again. The chapters this time are very short and reminiscent of Saturday matinee Westerns with their cliff hangers luring the reader forward, but I never felt emotionally involved with any of the characters. I had to force myself to keep going although eventually Enger's storytelling skills kept me reading to the end.

Other early reviews (a starred review in Kirkus apparently) seem entranced by this new title, but I was not.

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