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So Brave, Young, and Handsome


So Brave, Young, and Handsome

been seven years since Leif Enger triumphed with his first novel,
PEACE LIKE A RIVER. If one were to ask why it took so long for him
to produce SO BRAVE, YOUNG, AND HANDSOME, one need only crack open
the book and begin to experience the life of Monte Becket, the
Minnesota writer who is wracking his brain in a failing struggle to
pen his second novel.

It is 1915, and Monte has started seven second novels and discarded
them all. He feels pressure to succeed, as he has quit his job to
become a full-time writer, but at the same time he is getting no
such grief from his wife. She believes in him wholeheartedly, even
as he begins to think that he should give up and go back to work.
It is then that Glendon Hale rows past on the river and lures Monte
into a bittersweet tale of redemption, complete with the adventure
one might find in an old dime pulp western tale.

Glendon left his wife, Blue, years ago, and the guilt he feels has
been tearing him apart. Now, as he gets on in life, he is compelled
to seek her out and apologize. The two men set off on the rails,
and all is well until a ghost from Glendon's past emerges to turn
the quaint trip into a flight from justice. An ex-Pinkerton agent,
Charles Siringo --- who himself is now a bestselling author ---
latches on to Glendon with the intention of turning him in for a
long-ago crime.

The chase ensues, with Charles dogging them south and west, in and
out of the lives of an assorted cast of characters, until
eventually they go to California and Glendon gets his opportunity
to come face to face with his beloved Blue. Monte, who has been
changed by all he has seen and heard on this adventure, calls for
his wife and son to come west for a time, and a sense of peace and
redemption is found.

Enger's second novel was, like Monte's, a difficult birth. For all
of the struggle, however, he has set down a beautiful book that is
completely heartfelt, honest and true. Because of that, it is
impossible for any reader not to believe every moment of this
remarkable adventure.

Monte is a likable, albeit somewhat bumbling, narrator with the
best of intentions. Charles is so passionate in his desire to
capture and turn in Glendon after years of failed attempts that you
almost find yourself hoping he gets his man. And the gem hidden
within, intertwined with the stories of Glendon, Monte and Charles,
is a young man named Hood Roberts, who threatens to steal the show
for his own.

SO BRAVE, YOUNG, AND HANDSOME is a true joy of a book. Trying to
follow on the success of PEACE LIKE A RIVER was a daunting task,
but Enger is certainly capable enough as a storyteller to pen a
worthy successor, one that is wholly different and yet, at the same
time, incredibly familiar.

Moments of genuine surprise keep you smiling through the trials and
tribulations experienced by the heroes of the tale, touched with a
bittersweet sense of the days when new acquaintances became old
friends on a journey of chivalry and self-discovery in the Old
West. Within every passage on every page is a lyrical magic that
enchants and yields pure satisfaction right until the conclusion
--- and then you lament an end that comes too soon.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 23, 2011

So Brave, Young, and Handsome
by Leif Enger

  • Publication Date: April 22, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0871139855
  • ISBN-13: 9780871139856