Saturday, June 6, 2009

So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Lief Enger

This book became almost like an old friend to me. The chapters are short, so I could grab and gulp one down quickly in odd moments, and set it aside, feeling a sense of accomplishment. At the same time, of course, by picking up and letting down I didn't fully become engaged with the characters early. Or maybe it's just that kind of book: easy to read yet easy to set aside.

At least at first. The characters are intriguing, yet were difficult for me to get to know, especially the narrator, Monte Becket.

The story takes place around the turn of the century, in the early 1900s. Becket wrote an adventure novel that quickly became a best-seller, in spite of his lack of knowledge of the subject matter. He didn't know horses or adventure, yet his novel was about a western hero who triumphs over difficult odds by knowing how to ride, how to track, how to make love. The pulp fiction of the day.

Monte lives in Minnesota with his beautiful artist wife and observant young son. After the success of his novel he quits his job at the post office and tries to make a living at writing, yet he can no longer seem to find the words. Thus, he is feeling like a failure when a neighbor, Glendon Dobie, suggests he join him on a trip to Mexico to find the wife he left behind decades before. The neighbor is a bit of an unknown, but has found a way into the hearts of Monte's family, so Monte's wife urges him to go.

And thus begins an adventure for real. The trip doesn't go as planned in almost every way. Monte finds himself in situations that might have made good novel fodder if he'd been so inclined to use it. He is also challenged to find out more about himself, as so often happens in road stories.

I did not particularly like Monte until nearly the middle of the book. I didn't get a good feel for him, it seemed I couldn't grasp his essence, and what I did grasp I didn't particularly like. Yet by that time, the middle of the book, he began to change, or he began to assert those qualities of his that perhaps his wife knew and he had forgotten. From there on his decisions seem to be more outward - for the benefit of others - than internal.

Through much of the book, Monte and Glendon are pitted against a former Pinkerton's detective, bounty hunter Charles Siringo. As the novel progresses, Siringo assumes more and more presence and becomes almost a super-human adversary, seemingly evil to the core, yet...not?

Interesting, complex characters. A road show that almost assumes epic proportions. A story of a kind of redemption, finally, for more than one character.


Julie P. said...

I just finished PEACE LIKE A RIVER this week for my book club, and I thought it was just terrific. I'll have to try this one too!

Judith said...

Hi Julie! I just sent my copy off to a paperbackswap reader, otherwise I'd offer it to you! I love spreading the love. Or books, anyway.