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The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
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The Enchanted

by Rene Denfeld

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6095222,940 (4.14)61
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    Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Anonymous user)
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Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Rene Denfeld’s debut novel, The Enchanted, is a visibly heart-felt work of fiction that plumbs the depths of human desolation and misery, but does so in a manner that leaves the reader somewhat emotionally detached from the action. The story takes place in a dilapidated, century old prison facility, and is set primarily in the death row cells in the prison basement. Though the details are left vague, we’re assured that all of the men on death row have done horrible things and deserve to be there, including the unnamed narrator, a slender self-effacing man who loves books and either cannot or chooses not to speak. We meet the other characters through this narrator, who is enabled by the author to inhabit their minds and follow their actions. Chief among this group is “the lady,” whose job is to investigate the cases of the condemned in search of mitigating circumstances that their lawyers can use to argue for having their sentences commuted or for a new trial. The case that occupies the lady throughout the novel is that of an inmate named York, for whom she is fighting despite the fact that he does not want her to and has expressed his wish that he be allowed to die. The lady’s search for evidence to support York’s case for a reduced sentence takes her to a town called Sawmills Falls, somewhere out in “blue country,” near the “emerald lakes.” It is here that she learns the tragic story of York’s childhood, a story that echoes her own bitter memories of growing up. Most of the novel follows the lady’s investigative efforts on York’s behalf and her eventual disillusionment when she fails to convince herself that what she’s doing is worthwhile. In between these chapters, the narrator switches the focus to other characters: the prison warden, whose wife is dying of cancer, a new arrival: the “white-haired boy,” whose indoctrination into prison life is immediate and brutal, death-row inmate Striker, whose sentence is carried out, the “fallen priest,” also unnamed, who is there to provide spiritual guidance, and corrupt prison guard Conroy. The novel is narrated in a meditative, almost dream-like manner, with space devoted to reflections upon the nature and purpose of human existence, the paradox of beauty amidst ugliness, the persistence of evil in a world most of us would prefer to believe is good, and the unsettling concept of living one’s life in full knowledge of the where, when and how of one’s own death. Denfeld, a death penalty investigator who has both fiction and non-fiction books to her credit, adds surrealistic touches to her story that may or may not be misguided, but which support the narrator in his contention that the prison is an “enchanted” place. The Enchanted is a novel that, emotionally speaking, occupies something of a neutral middle ground: it is by no means uplifting, but neither is it unequivocally depressing. What it does do, is take the reader to places where the vast majority of us don’t want to go and, thankfully, never will. And maybe that’s enough. ( )
  icolford | Sep 19, 2018 |
Narrated primarily by an unnamed death row inmate at an aging prison, this is a surprisingly lyrical tale that shifts its focus between a defrocked priest, a lady investigator (she is always referred to simply as "The Lady"), a warden with a wife dying of cancer, unscrupulous prison guards, convicts with aggressive appetites, and the aforementioned death row inmate. Our narrator is either exceptionally perceptive or imaginative or both. He has done something terrible in the past, and something less terrible but very bad while inside which necessitated his move to the solitary confinement of death row. But the details are sketchy. We learn much more about another death row inmate named York whose background The Lady is investigating. Perhaps not untypically he comes from an exceedingly impoverished and abusive childhood. It's not a justification for his actions, which remain unspecified but are said to have been horrific. Rather it is a history, something that traces a path from A to B. Not that such a path is itself inevitable, as evidenced by The Lady's surprisingly similar childhood.

At times the novel reads more like a non-graphic, graphic novel, if that makes any sense. You could easily imagine it as a graphic novel. Maybe that is simply a sign of its slightly vague, unreal atmosphere. Indeed, "enchanted" is no bad descriptor for this effect. It is a compelling read but not predictable, at least for me. It was, as noted by many, a surprise.

Gently recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Aug 7, 2018 |
Just give this book the Pulitzer Prize now.

This is an astonishingly remarkable book. A first novel by a non-fiction writer, it reads like poetry. What is astounding is that the subject matter is, or at least should be, so dark and disturbing and yet the author has written a moving, uplifting, hopeful, and yes, disturbing book.

Set in an aging, decrepit prison, focusing primarily on the prisoners on death row and those who are trying to help them, we see what goes on inside the walls, and I do mean inside! There are few easy characterizations here, I often found myself sympathizing with those most monstrous, and even rooting for others to commit heinous acts. The characters are complicated, real, damaged, and even when we don't get to spend much time with them, sometimes only a few lines, the writing is so good that we "get" them, they are fully realized in a few phrases.

The question of the death penalty hovers over the story - is it a blessing or a curse, and for whom; the victims and their families, or the perpetrators? If the criminal chooses to accept his sentence is it ethical for others to fight for his life? Who are these who take on this battle? There is compassion in this book, and it is found in the most unexpected places. There is evil in this book and it too is found in the most unexpected places...Clearly this novel would be an excellent Book Club selection!! There are many other topics in the novel for readers to discuss, preferably over several glasses of wine!

This is not an easy read. The author knows her subject matter first hand having worked in the system. You will read things you will wish you could unread. You will imagine things left unsaid in the book and wish your mind hadn't gone there...You will never think about the sentencing of a 16-17 year old "as an adult" the same way again. The characters in this book will haunt you. All of them. This book will not leave you when you close it for the last time. Read it anyways!! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
Earlier this year, I read The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2018/01/review-of-child-finder-by-rene-denfeld.html) and I found it only average in quality, so it was with some misgivings that I sat down to read The Enchanted, Denfeld’s debut novel, because it was chosen by my book club. After reading The Enchanted, my opinion of The Child Finder is even less positive because it repeats so much of what is found in the author’s first fiction.

The Enchanted is set in an old prison. One major character is identified only as the lady; she is a death penalty investigator hired by attorneys to work on trying to commute the sentence of an inmate named York from death to life in prison. She delves into York’s past and finds that her own and his had many similarities. The reader also learns about others who work or live in the prison: a priest who offers spiritual counsel to inmates but needs forgiveness himself; the warden facing a crisis at home; a corrupt guard; a new female guard; a mute man who uses his imagination to transcend the bleakness of life on death row, etc.

The book emphasizes the human need to be heard, to be seen, and to be understood. The lady’s skill is in listening; York, for example, during the lady’s first meeting with him, thinks, “She hears me . . . she hears me” (11). She listens and learns the pasts of the inmates so she comes to understand why they committed the horrific crimes of which they have been convicted. The inmates are not innocent; they are perpetrators but they often are/were victims too. The lady may be so good at her job because she herself wants to be seen and understood.

There are actual inmates but there are also characters who have built walls around themselves because of fear or guilt. The lady, for example, has a past that weighs heavily on her: “The few attempts she made at telling men ended in disaster. She got wounded watching the disgust in their eyes, the recoil from her truth. She told herself this was the way it would be, that she was destined to live alone” (174). When she finally admits her shame, “she knows a door in her heart has opened” (175). The priest also has a story to tell; when he finally brings himself to speak it honestly, the lady “sees a bloom in his pallid skin, as if he is coming back to life. The poison is leaving him” (170).

The novel describes prison culture very realistically. Drug usage, rape, and corruption abound. The story of a new inmate, a sixteen-year-old white-haired boy with “a mouth like Cupid” (73), is especially devastating. It is not just the physical violence but the psychological damage that resonates. Striker, one of the death-row inmates, never touches the mute inmate but he still manages to inflict pain in a brutal way.

This mute prisoner is a great lover of books and also copes by creating a magic, enchanted world in which golden horses live underground and miniature men with miniature hammers hide in the walls: “a magic world away from the pain and terror of his life. . . . a safe place he could take himself, a place to shelter the tender nugget of life within” (48). Though I appreciate the message, I am not a fan of magic realism so the fantastical images had no appeal for me.

This brings me back to The Child Finder where Naomi, the protagonist, states that the abducted children “who did the best in the long run made a safe place inside their very own minds. Sometimes they even pretended they were someone else. Naomi didn’t believe in resilience. She believed in imagination.” This echoes an idea found in The Enchanted: the mute prisoner copes using his imagination and the lady mentions “her own childhood taught her how to pretend . . . just to survive, all the while protecting her pure, untouched core” (53). In The Child Finder, Denfeld manages to show compassion for Mr. B., a child abductor. As details of his past are revealed, the reader cannot but feel some sympathy and understanding for a damaged person. The same is true in The Enchanted because the reader cannot but feel some sympathy for York and the mute inmate when the extent of their victimization is revealed. The Enchanted also includes a theme found in The Child Finder: there is hope because “No matter how far you have run, no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found.” Furthermore, in both novels, the investigator has much in common with her clients.

If I had read The Enchanted without having read The Child Finder, I might have been more impressed. Perhaps I should say that The Enchanted is more original and The Child Finder is derivative?

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Apr 27, 2018 |
3.5 stars. Denfeld has serious credibility as a journalist and nonfiction writer. Plus her day job is investigating death penalty cases. But this book is clearly fiction / magical realism, which is one of my favorites. The Enchanted’s story is told by a nameless death row inmate with a quirky imagination. He devours books, and has a unique vision of the old stone prison in which he and the other inmates live.

Full review posted at TheBibliophage.com. ( )
  TheBibliophage | Mar 20, 2018 |
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This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it but I do.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062285505, Hardcover)

A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King.

"This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do." The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption—ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:15 -0400)

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him. A female investigator searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, and reveals shocking secrets of her own.… (more)

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