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Leif Enger has crafted a very enchanting adventure in So Brave, Young, and Handsome. It begins rather slowly, with the quiet, domestic scene of Monte Beckett and his family (wife Susanna and son Red Start). When the family befriends an old boatmaker with a mysterious past, the adventure begins. Monte is the author of a book that sold well enough, who is struggling to author his next as this tale opens. His wife is a painter and Red Start is a curious, enthusiastic and bright boy. They all become charmed and enthralled by Glendon Hale, the boatmaker.
At first, Monte begins by working for Glendon, and then as Glendon decides to travel to find his former wife, Monte joins him. At first I found myself wondering if it would be the lad Red Start that would accompany Glendon, or if perhaps the entire family would come along. Without wanting to spoil it for potential readers (it's part of the summary on the package, after all), it is Monte alone that shares the adventures.
Glendon's mysteries are many and he holds many of them close through most of the story. Pieces and parts of his past come out as he recounts stories, and as others who have known him come into the story. Their tales and past shared with Glendon make for knowing his history better, but also for new pieces of his (and Monte's) life. They also meet new folks and create a shared history of their own.
Dan Woren reads the book well, with inflections and accents to differentiate between different characters. This is only the second book I've heard in the CD format, and it felt very close to reading it for myself. I could almost imagine that it was I that looked at the pages and looked forward to the chapters, though I listened while plodding through rush-hour traffic and working out at the gym. Whether one is reading this book or listening to it though, each chapter cleverly ends with the reader (or listener) really wanting to know what's next, and not wanting to postpone finding out.
Enger's artful use of words allows characters and situations to freely enter and interact within one's mind. Glendon's description of a Doctor and office furnishings from his childhood, includes a few items, then, “tiny round mirrors for peering down your mysteries.” Later, a jail cell is mentioned as being made up of corners. Dialogue is frequent and made very realistic -- between the words themselves and Woren's reading, one is truly brought along for the many things that happen to Glendon and Monte over the course of a few weeks.
It's amazing the things that are recounted and included in 8 ½ hours of listening. Monte and Glendon befriend and are joined by a youngster early in their travels. He provides them with a car and is the mechanic to keep that car running. They cross paths a number of times with a lawman (Charles Siringo), who has spent time chasing Glendon many years earlier. This proves to be a very interesting relationship indeed. And Glendon finds his ex-wife again, along with her current husband.
All the characters in So Brave, Young, and Handsome are multi-dimensional and interesting. As one listens, they really do come to life in one's mind. The good things, the bad things, the pains and the triumphs, are all vivid and realistic. I really felt as if I were witness to the adventures, and that Glendon and Monte allowed me to come along.
© 2009 Margaret Riley
Margaret Riley, M.S., R.N. -- has been a Critical Care nurse in a highly acute ICU in the Denver Metro Area since graduation from nursing school. She continues to work occasionally in that setting, but now works full-time as a faculty member at her Alma Mater.