"Stunning ... a darkly beautiful, moving book"

THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld in one word: stunning!

Of course, I can’t stop at a one-word description for what is, without a doubt, my favorite read this year. This book also makes my “favorites of all-time” list, so rich is it in sensory detail, and literary and emotional depth. Set in a death-row prison, the story is unlike anything I’ve read, told through a first-person omniscient narrator, all while giving access to the intimate thoughts and activities of five other characters.

The Enchanted by Rene DenfeldOthers have described this novel as fiction containing “magical realism,” and yet I did not interpret the book in this way at all. What I saw was the author’s brilliance in portraying the fractured and broken minds of criminals suffering various forms of mental illness and horrific pasts – the visions of enchantment by one inmate simply a coping mechanism formed of necessity to survive in the dank, dark dungeon prisons where the unthinkable happens daily. And yet… this book offers hope in ways I hadn’t imagined would even be possible.

These characters are truly embedded in my consciousness (the reaction readers hope ALL books will provide), leaving me with a new sense of appreciation for the families of victims of violent crime, and for the very men who sit on death row for those crimes. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to feel such empathy, but it was possible – tenfold – in the hands of a skilled writer who, herself, is an investigator for death-row inmates. I was so emotionally invested by the end of the novel that tears were part of the equation. My empathy for The Lady, The Priest, The Warden, The White-Haired Boy, Arden, York, and even the unnamed tower guard was equally matched, and nearly palpable.

It was not lost on me that the mute inmate narrator’s name, Arden, is so close to the spelling of the character of The Warden (remove one letter, and are they not quite the same?). This literary technique causes pause for readers: How different are we, really? What if we were born into different circumstances? Can we find compassion where it seems least deserved? When heinous crimes are committed, what is the most ‘just’ way to deal with such monsters of society?

Moreover the novel brings light to so many intricacies of the prison system that were eye opening, if not downright horrific. And yet the author doesn’t shove her own ideals or agenda down the reader’s throat. She does not pass judgment through any of her characters. She allows the reader to draw her own conclusions.

This is a story ripe for discussion in book clubs about the death penalty but also about forgiveness (of self and others), emotional growth, positivity amid the worst of situations, and the power of imagination.

THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld is truly a darkly beautiful, moving book with some of the most lovely passages I’ve ever read:

“With her short black hair and her gaze – so intense – she resembles a cat, a tiny, beautiful cat, born to hunt, to drive her prey from the woods.”

“The fresh tumbling water makes her think of drinking and thirst and the hunger she has always felt – if she could swim in this creek, and wade away to forever, she might be whole.”

“The kites (complaint slips) float like origami birds, like paper snowflakes, floating and then raining from the cell door. They rain like passing thoughts on the floor, drift down into snow piles at the end of the corridor. Please move me, they say. Please.”

Read this book. That’s all there is to it. Read THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld. Now.

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(Original version of this piece published at GoodReads on July 10, 2015 by Melissa Crytzer Fry.  Reposted here with permission of the post author. ) 

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