So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ok, before I properly start this review I need to be a fangirl. Are you ready?


I have only been to see two other authors, and only met one. I heard Gail Carson Levine speak at my university a few years ago (she was wonderful) and had Orson Scott Card sign a copy of one of his books for my then-boyfriend on Valentine's day one year. But other than that - nothing. I am very excited to both meet Mr. Enger and hear him speak.

Thank you for indulging my little excited party.

Anyway, So Brave Young and Handsome tells the story of a discouraged one-hit wonder, Monte Becket. After publishing a wildly successful novel, he has found his imagination running dry. Just when he reaches his limit of frustration, an enigmatic neighbor on a boat enters his life and takes him on a journey that will change Monte's perspective on life.

Rereading that summary makes me feel like it is inadequate. Yes, that is what happens in the book, but there is so much more to it than that. Most people who like Leif Enger know him from his first novel, Peace Like a River, and most people I know enjoyed it much more than So Brave, Young and Handsome. However, I fell in love with SBY&H almost immediately.

I think in the plot department, SBY&H may be short of the mark when compared with Enger's first book. This book is quieter, more meandering, with some thoughtful, introspective sections. However, there are several moments of excitement, especially in the middle sections of the novel when Monte Becket is trying to protect his friend Glendon from the untiring, unpredictable, and violent Siringo (who, it turns out, was a real person). There are chases, shootings, and one irascible snapping turtle before the book quiets down to a peaceful orchard in California.

Enger's writing in this book is elegant and slow. He uses rich language that left me satisfying after reading a sentence. His style is somehow different from anything else I've read - I keep using the adjective quiet, but that is the best way I know how to describe it. When I read it, I felt like someone was reading it to me very softly by firelight - it is conversational but it takes its time getting where it needs to go, and takes a little time to introspect. Here is an example of a couple of lovely sentences: "There we stayed in the breathless night. Love is a strange fact -- it hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. It makes no sense at all." (32).

I loved the story and the writing, but the true love for me in this book was in the characters. They are rich and vivid - the ineffable, smiling, ever-positive Glendon, who just so happens to be wanted by the law; the vibrant artist Susannah, who encourages Monte to find himself despite sacrifice by herself; the quiet, firm Blue, the powerful, peaceable Claudio, the exuberant, gusto-filled Redstart, the twisted, manipulative Siringo. And of course, Monte Becket, the voice of the novel, often confused, often imperfect, usually not living up to his own expectations, but lovable in that he is an incarnation of all of us as we try to break out of our mediocre selves and live exceptional lives. The story was really about two things - for Glendon, it is about being absolved of his former crimes so he can start his life over as an honest man, and for Monte, it is about living a life he can be proud of and being a man worthy of Susannah. While the plot was exciting, it was secondary to the character development.

There were a couple of other silly little things that endeared the book to me. One was a telegram Susannah sends to Monte, where it says, "I miss your face. Come home." I had to laugh because I send those exact words to my husband all the time, in the form of a modern telegram - the oh-so-convenient text message. I also had to laugh at a conversation Monte eavesdropped on in the train, where two Mormon elders were arguing about Christy Mathewson, a baseball player for the Giants who wouldn't play on Sunday. (My husband and I are big Giants fans and members of the LDS church so this was kind of entertaining for us). Anyway, reading those bits made me feel like I had some kind of inside joke with Leif Enger that made the book even more fun to read.

So to sum it all up? Love, love, love, love, love. I think I enjoyed this book even more than Peace Like A River, although I definitely enjoyed that novel as well. I can't recommend it enough, and I can't wait to meet Leif Enger!

Readability/Accessibility - You might need to look up a word or two, but the story flows.
Aesthetics/literary merit - 5. Beautiful.
Plot - 4
Characters - 5
Personal Response - 5
Overall: 4.75


  1. Lorren, I'm so glad you loved this book. I did too. I know a lot of people who were disappointed with it, but I thought it was just beautiful. That might be (partially) due to the fact that I head Leif Enger do a reading from it, and it was gorgeous. I fell a little bit in love.

  2. I'm so excited for Saturday! I haven't seen you in forever, I'm excited to get together finally! And I can't wait to read this. Peace Like a River seriously changed my life it was so beautiful, so I'm excited to have another Leif Enger book in my collection!

  3. Have a wonderful time on Saturday! That sounds amazing! Especially exciting since you loved the book...that always helps.

    I've never read Enger, but the way you write about his writing makes me want to. It sounds like just the sort of book to read with snow falling outside, when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do but read.

  4. @Allison - I have a feeling I'm going to be even more obsessed after Saturday. I think I'm going to reread Peace Like a River too. Haha.

    @Erin (book club friend!) - I know, it has been a really long time! I finally have my work schedule figured out so hopefully the next time we get together I will know if I can come or not. And I hope you love this one! It is very different from Peace Like a River, but very good.

    @Erin (book blogger friend!) - Thanks! I can't wait. And I definitely recommend Enger. I read both of his books this year and I just want him to write another one. This is a good book to curl up with on a rainy day.


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