Monday, March 3, 2014

The Enchanted: A NovelThe Enchanted: A Novel by Rene Denfeld

The Enchanted: A NovelThe Enchanted: A Novel by Rene Denfeld

A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King.

"This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it, but I do."

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

My thoughts: I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this book. It has been highly rated and I definitely understand the reasoning. It is flawless in prose and execution (play on words, people). I will admit that I didn't really know what it was about. Now I know yet it is so incredibly unique in not only the story and plot but also the careful telling of the story.

The book is about a prison. It is not unlike other prisons in the country, although I don't know where the prison is located. At complete odds is the lyrical and playful prose with the stark realities of prison life. Additionally, the author easily changes between points of view. There is only one first person point of view and it is of a prisoner on death row. The added element is that he is, by all accounts, criminally insane. His survival depends on the worlds he creates inside his head. Some of it is beautiful and magical. Some of it is frightening. Some of it is simply his way to describe the irritants inside his head. Deep within the walls and floors of the prison are different creatures. The horses running cause the earth to shake and quake. This event often coincides with an execution.

There is a fallen priest who comforts and prays with the condemned man before death. There is also a lady who works for attorneys and she tries to find ways to spare the condemned execution. The warden is a man who works hard to keep the world safe by keeping in the prisoners. He also has to protect the prisoners from each other. It's a tricky balancing act. These are main characters yet nameless. They are complex, neither all good nor all bad. They have different parts to themselves they try to keep separate from their world of work.

There is a stark parallelism between two of the characters that seem to have shared very similar childhood experiences. The difference is that one of them became a cold-blooded murderer while the other did not.

Although the prose is lyrical and the world is enchanted for each of the characters in their own ways, the subject matter is stark, bleak, and difficult to read. It is a surprisingly non-depressing book yet it pulls no punches. Fine details of the baser activities of the criminals (both in and out of prison) are left alone. That is not to say those activities are not mentioned or described enough for the reader to understand.

My thoughts on the book are at odds with one another. Stark, dark, evil of prison life vs. an enchanted world created within the minds of the characters in one way or another with a writing style that almost dances through your head. About prison. I can't quite accommodate both in the same thoughts.

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