Book Club | July.08

First, a confession: I did not finish Peterson’s The Jesus Way. So, that will be next month’s choice. If you are like me and didn’t get it done, you still have time. It’s a good one.

This month’s read then was Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome. As I’ve said, I held eager anticipation for this book. Enger’s Peace Like a River would probably land on my top ten novel list. It was stunning, simple, imaginative, earthy. Amazing prose. Vivid characters. And a line here and there that truly stopped me cold.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome was a fine story. For me, not meteoric like Enger’s first, but still, pretty fantastic. Enger has a way of catching a dialect – and sticking with it consistently – that moves you into the world and the lives he has created.

There was a point in the book, perhaps midway, where the dialogue almost annoyed me; but I can’t say quite why. I think the narrative felt a bit too tidy for me at the moment – not enough grit. And somehow the smooth, folksy cadence of the language (mixed with my need for a little more bite) made it feel a tad sentimental. But I simply needed to hold on. Hood’s story was grit enough to go around – there was real tragedy to be found there. I also felt that Enger made a fabulous move in how he brought Glendon’s tale to a close. Enger could have chosen a different, easier path. But he didn’t. It seems he told the story the way it came, not the way we might want it to come. I respect that.

Two things I like about Enger (and these can actually be found in both of his novels):

[1] I see Enger wrestling with masculine themes through many of his characters. He gives the good, the bad, and the ugly about the many roads a man can take on road to becoming (or leaving behind) his true self. Becket, plagued with self-doubt, knew little his identity, but he took the hard path in order to discover who he was, what he was made of. Glendon fought his demons and wrestled for redemption – particularly redemption that was for the good of another. Hood wrangled between being a child and a man – an interesting character study could be found there. As a man myself, I appreciate Enger’s wide-hearted exploration into the masculine soul.

[2] Enger is a romantic. He has high ideals; and while he won’t pretend that all his characters live up to them, somehow his stories always leave you hoping for what is deep and true. Enger’s romanticism is earthy yet mysterious at the same time. Enger described Grace as a woman “who believed romance was no mere ingredient but the very stone floor on which all life makes its fretful dance.” Though written of Grace, I think Enger described himself too in these words. And I like that. Alot.

4 responses to Book Club | July.08

  1. Jonny Griffiths July 9, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Glad that Peterson’s book is being given an extra month – I have it and want to get through it, but instead I read Enger’s book.

    Winn, it seems that both of the fiction books have been less well received by you than by myself. I say this because I’ve been gushing to people about So Brave, Young & Handsome and last month’s The Man Who Was Thursday. You’ve revived my passion for fiction and narrative and I think you have excellent taste. Keep them coming!

    I agree with you that there was a slightly sentimental air to the telling of the story, but for me it was essential to the narrator’s voice. He is, after all, a helpless romantic who, despite his consistent experience that the reality never matches the whirlwind daydream, clings to the ideal of romanticism. It also serves to increase the feel of reminiscence in regard to Glendon.

    Now, as much as I loved Beckett and Hood, it was Glendon that captivated me throughout. His tale of redemption at Hole in the Rock, swiftly followed by his continuation of prodigal living, spoke so deeply to me about the grace I experienced from Jesus. The process of perfection is exactly that – a process.

    Besides Glendon, there was also something so visual in this novel. The set pieces (the runaway turtle, the runaway horse with Hood emerging victorious, the terrible fight on the movie set etc. etc.) were so well written and paced that the book is begging for a movie adaptation. Enger’s writing painted such vivid strokes and placed me squarely into the world of his characters.

    Yes, I too am glad that he didn’t end the novel in an easy way. I was sad to see Glendon go, but also felt such respect for him that he had pursued reconciliation, and was then at peace to receive the consequences of his former life.

  2. I have nothing to offer other than to tell you Peace Like a River is on the way to my house. Thanks for the indirect recommendation.

  3. Jonny, love your insights here. And – rumor has it that movie rights have been purchased on Peace Like a River, so perhaps So Brave will follow shortly.

    Justin, I hope you like it. I think you will.

  4. Jonny Griffiths July 10, 2008 at 9:09 am

    Excited to hear about the possible movie. I’ll have to read Peace Like a River before that happens. I find that I can read the book then watch the movie, but the other way around never quite works out.

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