10.22.2010

book crush, uh, friday: So Brave, Young, and Handsome

It was a story to make a boy lean forward. -- So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger

Why do the foolish insist? But I was thinking of the modest dimensions a thousand words actually describe--a tiny essay, a fragment of conversation. "How hard can it be?" concluded your idiot narrator, lifting his glass to the future. -- Monte Becket, in So Brave, Young, and Handsome


Here it is. A book so splendid I want to crawl into it and stay there: So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by the fabulous Leif Enger.

It's not because I'm a fan of Westerns--I'm not. Not at all. I love this book because I'm a fan of a good story--one with engaging characters, a bit of violence, a bit of romance, a bit of travel. Risk. Beauty. Hope. And if I can't see what's coming around the corner, so much the better.

It helps, too, that every single sentence is beautiful. That the story works on a micro level. That it has bits in it like this:

Violent and doomed as this world might be, a romance it certainly is.

Brilliant, isn't it? Makes me catch my breath a little, and this time it's not because I'm sick.

Or, he pinpoints a feeling: Lost, that's how I felt. A page had turned and the story was a new one filled with doubtful creatures.

Or this one: We hear much about moments of decision, but often you don't know they have happened until later and there you stand in your cooling skin.

Or even, exact descriptions that leave me spluttering with laughter: The only nice thing about Rory was his teeth. Or, a bit later, The midget was a hard negotiator with a voice like a kazoo.

I mean really, kazoo? That's enough to send me back to my dictionary: let's keep pursuing the perfect words! Kazoo is dead-on splendid.

... Do you get the feeling that I could do this all day? Sit here typing out Enger's genius sentences, each one calling me back to read the whole story? That's because I could. It's a fantastic book, my friends, perfect for this sort of weather--warm and autumny, with that restless feeling of change that autumn always brings.

It's an adventure story, of course. With trains and detectives and outlaws. Arrests and legends and twenty-year grudges. It's also about an author who can't write a second story, and a long journey to an orchard, where, frankly, I'd like to move.

I didn't say it in my other post on Leif Enger (shame on me!), but reading his book is like unwrapping a gift. It feels like you're slowly opening something lovely, something put together just for you. I don't know why that is--but there's something very personal about his books. Makes it feel like he's writing just to me.

It reminds me of how intimate a novel really is. How personal. After all, these are all thoughts out of someone's head, sentences he's honed to a fine edge, and he wraps them all up, and then I take it. Bring it home, curl up with it, and unwrap it, unwind the story, sentence by sentence, and am, myself, transported.

It's why I read Enger when I'm depressed about writing, about books, about the ability of a story to move us. I read some other book, a thin, narrow sort of thing with flat characters and dull clich├ęd sentences, and think, why? Why do we still think novels can move people, can make any difference at all! All those little marks on paper--do they mean anything?

Then I read Enger. And I get back to work.

Recommendation: Find yourself some good cornbread, studded with corn kernels, steaming out of a cast iron skillet. And warm some apples with cinnamon, and pour some black coffee.

And clear your day, your whole day, and read this book at once. By nightfall, you'll feel as if you've been away, on a brilliant vacation, a marvelous journey. You'll have no regrets. It will be a perfect day.

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