The end of the early, “wild” west has always been a great setting for stories, and Leif Enger’s second novel So Brave, Young, and Handsome adds to that tradition. It captures an exciting time when one generation, one way of life, was passing into the sunset, but another way of life was being born.
It’s 1915, and the protagonist is Monte Becket, a Minnesota man who wrote one great adventure novel, but despite several false starts, cannot find the thread for his next book. He’s considering giving up writing and returning to a bland job in the post office, but he wonders what that will do to his marriage and the adulation of his son Redstart. Becket doesn’t just have writer’s block, his whole life has become stuck.
That changes when a mysterious man named Glendon Hale appears on the local river. The two men strike up a friendship, although Glendon remains elusive. But ultimately, when Glendon decides to journey to Mexico in search of some kind of reconciliation with his lost wife, Monte, with his wife’s encouragement, goes along.
What follows is a rambling adventure on rivers, trains, and on early roads through little towns, a late Wild West Show, and out to California. Along the way, Becket encounters two more characters, who along with Glendon, will forever change his outlook. The first is Charles Siringo, a prairie version of Hugo’s Javert, a vicious and egomaniacal lawman who is continuing a long chase. The second is Hood Roberts, an upbeat young man in search of Western adventure. Becket is a waffler compared to all three of his companions, who while they have little else in common, are all men of action. As he’s dragged through chases, near escapes, and disasters, he begins to pick up a little of their gumption.
Enger captures the more formal speech and writing patterns of early America beautifully, and that especially shows in the audiobook, read nicely by Dan Woren.
Addressing various themes such as what it is to be good, whether one can ever shed guilt, how failures can damage a relationship, the driving force of revenge, and the different ways in which we can create the story of our lives, this is an enjoyable and powerful book. Like Enger’s excellent first book, Peace Like a River, this story features a great American journey and some truly American characters in the process of finding themselves. He’s one of our best current novelists, and I look forward to his future work.
Check the WRL catalog for So Brave, Young, and Handsome
Look for So Brave, Young, and Handsome in Large Print
Or try it as an audiobook on compact disc
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