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So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger
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So Brave, Young, and Handsome

by Leif Enger

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6724614,252 (3.7)62
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Title:So Brave, Young, and Handsome
Authors:Leif Enger
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Tags:Historical Fiction, Western Fiction, Outlaw, Tain Robber,

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So Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel by Leif Enger

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Enjoyed the symmetry. ( )
  vdunn | Apr 30, 2014 |
Nearly as good as "Peace Like a River," with characters that you'll want to have as your friends. Leif Enger has a way with a phrase that can make you laugh out loud while reading, and a way with a road story that makes you wish that he could keep putting those rivers in front of the horses forever. ( )
  SLWert | Jan 2, 2014 |
This is a lovely, lyrical book filled with interesting, mysterious characters. It conveys a real feel of an older time. It reads like an old western yet has a modern touch, and includes adventure, outlaws and lawmen along with an artist and a writer. I liked this book even more than Peace Like A River, Enger's other novel and a previous One Book One Denver selection. In the end I think this book is about love, redemption and finding one's true path in life. ( )
  michellebarton | May 23, 2013 |
For his second novel, [So Brave, Young, and Handsome], Leif Enger chose one of the oldest and most hallowed tropes – the road trip. As far back as [The Canterbury Tales] or [The Odyssey], quests have been used as a metaphor for life, perhaps because the metaphor quickens within us all the desire to strike out and change ourselves.

In [So Brave, Young, and Handsome] Monte Beckett is stuck. After writing a wildly successful western adventure, he can no longer find the words or the story. He sits on the porch, scribbling unpublishable tripe and burning the pages. The porch affords him a view of the river, constantly moving and alive – a vital reminder of how stagnant he has become. Then, the river produces his salvation, a strange, spritely man rowing through the mist, mumbling and laughing to himself. Glendon Hale – which might be his real name or might be another in a long line of aliases designed to help elude a violent and vulgar past – breathes new life into Monte. Glen convinces Monte to leave with accompany him on a journey to Mexico to find a long lost love. The trip transforms the two men.

Early in the novel, a lawman chastises Monte that authors make the world too much of a romance. Monte takes exception to the argument, declaring, “violent and doomed as this world might be, a romance it certainly is.” This notion is one that Monte must recapture in his journey, as his life has become too much of a a forced march – he has lost the ability to see the romance in the world around him and, with that loss, the ability to live life instead of work at it. Not until Monte has regained the romance of the world is he able to write again.

What thrums with life in the novel is also its greatest weakness. The eccentric and quirky cast of characters Monte encounters on his journey is fascinating but by the time we get to the Annie Oakley shooting girl and the midget horse salesman, the circus has one too many clowns. Enger reaches too far to make these minor characters colorful when the real interest is in the main characters; the ones whose angst looks a little more like our own. Monte – a tragic figure, stagnant and moored too firmly by his fears of failure – and Glen – the drunk trying to recapture his past in the same breath as absolution for it – are the real interest. Or Monte’s wife, holding her family together delicately, like grasping at a group of eggs just larger than her hands. These are the truly provocative characters in the novel and they are featured far too little while Enger chases the quirky.

The best example of Enger’s misguided path is Charlie Siringo. Just as Monte and Glen’s journey has begun, they are separated and Monte is left in the custody of Charlie Siringo, a retired Pinkerton who cannot quit his prey. Perhaps because Siringo was a real and terribly interesting person, Enger seems devoted to creating some space to tell the man’s story. Sirigno, both in the novel and in real life, went undercover to infiltrate Butch Cassidy’s gang during its train-robbing phase. A renowned lawman, for his exploits and the books that he wrote about them, Siringo cast a more professional and intellectual shadow than the gunslingers of the time. But with Siringo, Enger’s novel goes off the rails. While Siringo pursues Glen with Monte in custody, Enger loses sight of the tone and character of his story. Almost immediately, the description of place and time falls by the wayside. Traveling over the Kansas flatlands and into the Oklahoma hills with Monte and Glen, the country is vivid and alive, bounding off the page. But Siringo carries the story into a void that is bland and featureless, opaque to everything but Siringo’s own narrative. And some of Monte’s most uncharacteristic and unbelievable moments are with Siringo. The lengths that Enger goes in keeping Monte in Siringo’s custody strain the bounds of believability. Even Monte, a fearful and stagnant man, should have been able to elude a man who is suffering the ill effects of age, gunshot wounds, and the onset of a paralyzing stroke.

Enger is clearly setting Siringo up as the anti-thesis of Glen and Monte’s pursuit of change and growth – as Siringo stands for all things unchanging. He is unable to lay down his obsession, ceaselessly chasing glory in the same way over and over again. But this is a comparison that would have been best suited to tell from afar. Remember that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – the two outlaws perched on rocky crag, peering out over the reflective desert sand at the ever plume dust kicked up by their dogged pursuers. “Who are those guys?” Butch says. Siringo from afar, obsessed and persistent, would have made the same point across without derailing Monte and Glen’s story.

Bottom Line: A transformative quest tale – derailed in the middle but set aright in the end.

3 bones!!!!! ( )
2 vote blackdogbooks | May 19, 2013 |
Monte Becket is a postman in Minnesota in 1915. In his spare time, he wrote a swash-buckling adventure that somehow becomes something of a bestseller. No one is more surprised than Monte. As these things do, the success goes to Monte’s head and he quits his day job to become a fulltime author. And he hits a wall. There’s nothing there. He has written all the stories he has in him in this one story. We first encounter Monte when he has been fighting this writer’s block for about five years. He is sitting at his window one day, trying to meet his daily quota of 1000 words, when he glimpses a boatman row into view through the fog. The boatman is rowing standing up and facing forward as he laughs to himself like he has a delightful little secret. Who could resist that particular allure? Monte runs outside and invites the boatman in for coffee. The man just keeps rowing and laughing, but responds, “Some other time.” Eventually, Monte and his wife and young son have the opportunity to become friends with the boatman, whose name is Glendon Hale. As they become closer to Glen, they feel certain that the man has a past he is hiding. One day, Glen confesses to Monte that he was married to a young Mexican girl a long time ago. He left her for reasons of his own, but now he feels like he should find Blue, as he affectionately calls her, and apologize for leaving her the way that he did. He invites Monte to accompany him on his search. Upon his wife’s urging, Monte eventually agrees to go with Glen, and their adventure begins.

Okay, let’s just get it out there. This is not Peace Like a River. It’s just not. I missed Reuben and Swede. But--this is still a five star book. I love Leif Enger’s writing. Magic happens for me when he starts stringing words together. When I open one of his two books, I am lost in his world. When I was trying to describe Enger’s writing style to my husband, all I could say was, “It’s just--just--just perfect.” That’s the best I can do. It’s just perfect.

The characters are wonderfully complex. Monte is a scrupulously honest narrator. He doesn’t dwell on the moments when he might shine a little. He plays up the times when his cowardice gets the better of him. I don’t want to give away anything else, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the other characters are well-developed also. I told my husband five minutes after finishing this book, “I miss those characters already.” I wasn’t really exaggerating.

The plot moved along at a good pace and the story was engaging. I never wished that we could just get on with it. The characters moved in and out at just the right time, within events that happened at just the right time, with just the right amount of foreshadowing.

The story is a good story in and of itself. But there are larger themes hidden within the pages, and I loved those too. We’ve all read the books about how family isn’t necessarily the people you’re related to, it’s the people you choose and who choose you who are always there for you. True. But Enger takes it a step farther. He seems to believe that family can be made up of the people you’re related to and the people you choose. A true family will always have room for more people, blood relatives or not. Love grows more love. I like it.

There are more of these, but this is getting long.

I was so nervous starting this book. I was afraid that I would be disappointed because Peace Like a River is one of my two absolute favorite books. So Brave, Young, and Handsome is a wonderful book in its own right. Don’t overlook it because it’s not as good as Peace Like a River. Peace was something like a seven star, once-in-a-lifetime book. This one is “just” a five star. But think about that. Everyone runs out to buy a five star book, so give this one a chance. You won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.
( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Not to disappoint you, but my troubles are nothing – not for an author, at least.
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I looked at my son, the lover of mysteries. You could never guess what Redstart might say, for his mind was made of stories; he’d gathered all manner of splendid facts about gunpowder and deserts of the world and the anchoring of lighthouses against the furious sea; he knew which members of the James gang had once ridden into our town to knock over a bank and been shot to moist rags for their trouble; and about me he knew some things not even his mother knew, such as the exact number of novels I had abandoned on that porch.
Then letters began to arrive. I was still employed at the P.O. and was startled in the sorting room when envelopes bearing my name began crossing the desk. I rarely received mail – when I did it was apt to be from my mother, whose letters were straightforward offerings of gained wisdom. These on the other hand were praise from strangers who had read my little tale. … The daunting and completely unforeseen fact was this: They had mistaken me for a person of substance! I blushed but kept the letters. When I did hear from my mother, sometime later, she suggested I cling to my place at the post office and not let publication make me biggity. Fine advice, you will agree, yet vanity is a devious monkey.
“Jack London sets down a thousand a day before breakfast,” said I. 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.
He was formal in the way of men grown apart, yet energy teemed behind his eyes and in some ways he seemed a boy himself. He might laugh abruptly at one of Redstart’s childish jokes; he was pleased by the simplest plays on language; and, like a boy, he kept eating rolls as long as there were rolls to be eaten. To Susannah he gave all possible deference, rising whenever she got up for more coffee or frosting, saying thank you in reverent tones and with averted eyes. These manners endeared him to Susannah straightaway, so that she looked round the table to make sure Redstart and I were noticing how a gentleman acts. He gave his story in bright shards.
She was a refined woman. It was disturbing to imagine her slinging my manuscript, goaded by my weak idioms.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0871139855, Hardcover)

Amazon Significant Seven, April 2008: A gritty western couched in the easy storytelling style of a folk ballad (think 3:10 to Yuma as sung by the Kingston Trio), Leif Enger's highly anticipated second novel (his first was Peace Like a River) tells the story of outlaw Glendon Hale's quest to right his past, as seen through the eyes of his unlikely companion Monte Becket. So Brave, Young, and Handsome begins with Becket, a struggling novelist bewildered by the success of his first book, who has pledged to his wife, son, and publisher to "write one thousand words a day until another book is finished." Four years and six unfinished novels later, Becket sits on the porch of his Minnesota farmhouse about to give up on number seven, when he spies a man standing up in his boat "rowing upstream through the ropy mists of the Cannon River." Eager to set aside his waning tale about handsome ranch hand Dan Roscoe, Becket calls out to the mysterious white-haired boatman and his life changes forever. At turns merry and wistful, romantic and tragic, So Brave, Young, and Handsome is as absorbing as a campfire tale, full of winking outlaws and relentless villains--the sort of story to keep you on the edge of your seat with hope in your heart. --Daphne Durham

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:17 -0400)

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The story of an aging train robber on a quest to reconcile the claims of love and judgment on his life, and the failed writer who goes with him.

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