four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
By: 
Leif Enger
user_rating: 
0

A-So Brave Young and HandsomeIn this long-awaited follow-up to Peace Like a River (2001), Leif Enger spins an extraordinary tale of adventure and romance in a dying Old West.

The Story: Minnesota postman Monte Becket penned his first novel, a runaway best seller, in 1910, but five years later, he’s unable to produce a second. Mired in self-doubt, Monte meets Glendon Hale, his charming, elderly new neighbor, and the two become fast friends. When Glendon asks Monte to accompany him West to help him search for the wife he abandoned decades earlier, Monte agrees, and they leave for Mexico by way of the Great Northern Railroad. However, Glendon’s past catches up with him when a steward recognizes the former train robber. The two men are soon on the lam, with a bitter ex-Pinkerton detective, Charles Siringo, in hot pursuit.
Atlantic Monthly Press. 272 pages. $24. ISBN: 0871139855

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Enger has taken the old saying ‘Write what you know’ to heart with his new novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, and the result is a superbly written, utterly compelling story of self-discovery and redemption disguised as a cracking good adventure tale. … While So Brave, Young, and Handsome will invite comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Enger’s novel easily holds its own with those two." Peter Moore

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Deftly narrated and wider-ranging in both its emotional and territorial geography [than Peace Like a River], the novel portrays the lives of men out of step with their own present, brought together by a triangulation of circumstances that only the American West could deliver. … In tone and plot, this sounds like one of the paperback novels that Monte Becket made his name upon, but Enger succeeds in giving his characters a depth and narrative arc that belies their horse-operatic setting." Clayton Moore

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4.5 of 5 Stars
"So Brave, Young and Handsome is an almost perfect novel, lively and engrossing, full of surprises, funny, touching and a great read. … The straightforward narrative, recounted in a single voice, keeps us turning the pages, faster and faster, and by the time the story comes full circle, Enger will have plenty of new fans hoping he gets to work soon on his next book." Gail Pennington

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Possessed of a seemingly effortless facility for the stiletto-sharp drawing of wholly believable characters (the loathsome Siringo is a particular triumph), Enger also boasts a pitch-perfect ear for the cadences and syntax of Midwest and Great Plains vernacular. … So Brave, Young, and Handsome is affable and humane as all get out, homespun and sophisticated at once, wise and knowing about the ubiquity of the human condition and the vagaries of the human heart." Bruce Olds

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"So Brave, Young, and Handsome is a swashbuckler of a tale, full of bandits and lovely ladies and men on a quest. … This innocence, and a world of abundant hope, is much of what makes reading Enger’s tales so enjoyable, though this one meanders a bit much at times." Robin Vidimos

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome lurches forward fitfully but ultimately uncorks enough surprises and vivid characters (like a handsome blond desperado and a female sharpshooter) for a bumpy but satisfying ride in." Ben Spier

Critical Summary

Enger’s new novel has much in common with Peace Like a River—"its beset, first-person narrator, an earnestly colloquial sensibility, a religious faith in life’s essential worth and muscular optimism about the fundamental decency of human nature" (Chicago Tribune). Critics considered it an admirable successor to Enger’s highly acclaimed debut, with its pitch-perfect dialogue, beautiful prose, highly romantic characters, cheerful tone, and a delightfully conjured-up Old West. Though a few critics found fault with the novel’s narrative momentum, the Minneapolis Star Tribune praised "the combination of hard-edged realism and lyrical high adventure" and spoke for all critics when describing the novel as "seamless and enthralling." Readers, especially fans of Peace Like a River, will relish this captivating swashbuckler of a tale and look forward to more from this talented author.

Also by the Author

Peace Like a River (2001): A Minnesota family races across the Midwest in an attempt to reunite with their renegade son, wanted for the murder of two men he shot while defending the family homestead.