Monday, June 2, 2008

So Brave, Young, and Handsome

So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger
$16.32 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 0871139855
This is Leif Enger's second novel. His first, Peace Like A River, won international acclaim. It also happens to be a good choice if you're searching for a Father's Day gift, as it involves the old west, fatherly devotion, and platonic love between men.
Monte Becket is a Happily married man with a terrific son and a wildly successful first novel. His attempts to write a second, however, have produced nothing but duds, and he's soon faced with the prospect of giving up writing to become an accountant to support his family.
Not quite ready for this drastic step, he befriends an older man who lives nearby named Glendon Hale. Glendon has a few regrets, the most serious of which is abandoning his own loving wife, Ruby, many years ago for reasons that become clear later on in the novel. In his old age, Glendon wants to find Blue and set things right with her.
Almost on a whim, he asks Monte if he'd be interested in coming along. The timing couldn't be more perfect, so Monte agrees, seeking one last adventure before his dreary new life as an accountant begins.
When they're on the road, Monte soon learns that his traveling companion is on the run from the law, a convict who's been robbing banks and trains for years. For a moment he considers turning back: 
entering a conspiracy with a wanted criminal and risking prison as an accomplice is not what he had in mind when he set out on this little journey. Naturally, he ultimately stays loyal to his friend, and in return he gets more excitement than he'd anticipated and outstanding inspiration for that second novel.
A lot of the story revolves around their trip, with an obsessed, Inspector Javert style police officer hot on their trail. The book is set in the west at the beginning of the twentieth century, so there's lots of gunslinging, braving the elements, and even some harsh wilderness survival as the two bake turtles they catch and steal from farmhouses for dinner.
In a larger sense, this novel is much more character-driven than plot-driven. The two guys barely know each other at the beginning: they're reticent, then share mutual respect, and finally become devoted friends. It's a story about loyalty and doing right by people; quite sensitive, but in a strong, silent, and manly way. It's also about completing one last quest before laying down one's sword and armor.
Recommended for those who enjoy books about the old west, and male bonding under the stars. Plenty of narrow escapes and nights spent staring into the campfire. A very subdued novel, but enjoyable in its own quiet way.

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