To compare this to " Lonesome Dove " is just plain daft !
Leif Enger is no Larry McMurtry , no Cormac McCarthy , not even an Annie Proulx : all great exponents of Western literature . He is however a unique Leif Enger and should not be compared to the above . He is his own man with his own style and worth attention .
This is a journey literally through the early last century , almost civilized West and a journey of self discovery for the hero Monte Becket. Monte wrote one best seller then his mental pen ran dry . After years of trying to regain his talent , into his life came Glendon Hale a mysterious , alluring character with a shady past . Together they set out : Glendon to find the wife he deserted long ago in Mexico and Monte to to find his lost muse . They meet adventure , tragedy and many interesting heroes and rogues along the way .
Do they find fulfillment in their quests . Well therein lies the tale. I recommend this to any fan of quality Western writing .
on 10 May 2013
I don't even remember when, or why I picked up So Brave, Young and Handsome (although the sticker on the back tells me I bought it somewhere in the Euro-zone - it must have been an impulse purchase at a train station!) and it probably would have sat on my shelf for a lot longer than the two years it's already been languishing if it wasn't for a challenge on Goodreads.
I think I probably bought it without reading the synopsis and mistook it for a historical fiction about WWI, which it wasn't. Instead, it was a story about a novelist who loses his purpose and sets off randomly on a trip with a man who drifts past his home in a rowboat one afternoon.
A mixture of adventure, road-trip and self-discovery, I didn't form a huge attachment to any of the characters. I could sympathise with Monte's loss of direction, and I could understand his need for some kind of adventure, but I really didn't get why, despite his unending comments about wanting to go home to his wife, that he didn't just go back and pick up his old life. I'm not sure if the author was aiming for a sinister or action-packed story, but if that is the case then on both fronts it didn't really work - I didn't feel any kind of danger for the characters, nor a sense that Monte wouldn't make it through his adventure.
There was however a distinctly wild feel to the story, and Monte and Glendon's wandering bought them to some very unique and vividly drawn locations, from the circus/rodeo to the open planes of Ohio and through to the hills of California, so there was a definite feeling of a real road-trip across 1910's America.
The favourite part of my book was the ending (and no, not because it was finishing!) as the characters came to the end of their journeys and realised exactly what they had been looking for as they had traipsed across the country together.
So Brave, Young and Handsome is beautifully written, but the language isn't over-complicated and instead tells a rather laconic, meandering tale of self-discovery and realising that the baddies aren't always who we assume they are.
"That is how you want to be remembered, my friends. Take a picture in your moment of conquest, when your luck is high and bullets still bounce off. That will do for the ages." - Monte Becket
Monte Becket lives with wife and young son in rural Minnesota along the Cannon River during the second decade of the 20th century. To date, Becket's one claim to wealth and fame is his wildly popular pulp Western, MARTIN BLIGH. His publisher wants more, but, lately, Monte's muse has failed him. Becket is drifting and anticipating failure as a writer, husband and father. Then one day, out of the fog on the river, a white-haired old man paddles his boat past. Enter into Monte's life boat-builder Glendon Hale, formerly Glen Dobie of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.
Hale was once married to a Mexican girl named Blue. But, sought by the Federales, Glendon deserted her never to return. Now, years later, he desires to go back and apologize to the woman he truly loved. He invites Monte to accompany him on the journey, and the latter, fearing the stagnation in his life, accepts. Along the way appears Charles Siringo, also once of the Hole-in-the-Wall, but now a self-anointed lawman of some legend, mostly constructed from books that he himself has written. Charles, now an old man himself, is in relentless pursuit of Glen Dobie for past crimes.
SO BRAVE, YOUNG AND HANDSOME is a coming-of-maturation story by Leif Enger. Its characterizations and narrative pace are reminiscent of Larry McMurtry's novels of the West, e.g. the superlative Lonesome Dove. Here, Becket rediscovers not only himself and the talents within, but also learns something about the nature of honor, friendship, love and public fame.
In the McMurtry style, the plot of Enger's book doesn't evolve to a climactic and dramatic ending. Rather, random and relatively mundane events accumulate over time to give meaning to the protagonist's life, much as they do in the real lives of you and me. Enger's writing talent enables him to tell his tale with sympathy for each of the characters and a keen eye for the story's time and place. What results is not a thriller in the popular sense, but still a book that I couldn't put down. Like Lonesome Dove , it could translate to an intelligent and absorbing film of high emotional impact.
Monte Becket is struggling to follow up the runaway success of his first novel. Money is running short and he's facing up to the fact that he may have to go back to his old job in the Post Office. Glendon Hale abandoned his wife many years ago and now wants to go back to Mexico to find her and apologise. When Glendon asks Monte to accompany him, it seems like a way for Monte to postpone any hard decisions for a while. So with the blessing of his wife Susannah, he agrees to go. Along the way they pick up a third companion, young Hood Roberts, who dreams of the old West and wants to join the Hundred and One rodeo.
The story of a road trip that starts in Minnesota and eventually ends in California is also the story of a trip back in time. Set in 1915, each of the three characters is looking backwards - Monte with his book set in a, for him, imagined world of the old West; Hood, the young motor mechanic, who clings to the romantic idea of being a cowboy in a world that is moving on; and Glendon, the only one of the three with experience of the old days, a former outlaw of the Hole in the Wall era and still wanted for crimes committed years ago. Each of the three is searching for something in the past, and in a sense they each find what they're looking for - but perhaps not as either they or the reader might expect.
Into this mix comes Charlie Siringo, an ex-Pinkerton man, determined to hunt down Glendon for one final blast of glory. Siringo, somewhat oddly, is based on a real Pinkerton agent though, from what I understand, pretty loosely. In the book, he's the legal good guy but the moral bad guy, as the reader's sympathies are very much with the three fugitives. Well, we always did prefer Butch and Sundance to the Sheriff, didn't we?
The book is very well written with a fairly plain prose style that matches well with the story. The plot is secondary to the description of the gradually changing landscape, weather and lifestyle as the men move west, and characterisation is at the heart of the novel. The story is told in the first person from Monte's point of view and through him we see a gradual stripping away of layers as his initial impressions of the other three change.
The tale is a deliberately romanticised one, and really doesn't stand up to a critical eye very well. Monte's behaviour in particular makes no sense at several parts of the story, and the moral flip-flopping of the main characters is a bit unsubtle, leading to a lack of credibility. Siringo in particular becomes increasingly less believable as the book progresses until he ends up almost as a cartoon character. And as Monte drifts along, agonising over his own indecisiveness, I longed for him to discover the spirit of John Wayne or Henry Fonda and show a bit of heroism, or at least some backbone. As a result, the emotional involvement that I felt in the early part of the book had waned considerably by the end. However, the picture of the last days of the old West - or at least the old West as depicted in the cinema Western - is very well done and made this an enjoyable and nostalgic read overall, especially for anyone who fondly remembers the glory days of the cowboy movie.
Leif Enger continues to be a delightful teller of tales, continuing his love of the mythic West, when the world was full of adventures, heroes and villains who are not always what they seem. I was blown away by his first novel, Peace Like A River, waited a long time for this, his second, to appear. The wait has been worth it.
In an age like ours which has little innocence, the story of a time when life moved more slowly, when the land was larger, the days longer and not so frantic with choice, there's something surprisingly restful and expansive about this story of cowboys and outlaws, of detectives who spend years and years chasing 'the bad un' and the strange friendships which can spring up between men who yearn for adventure and the open land as much as they yearn for a quieter life and the love of a good woman.
Enger has what I love to read - warmth and heart. His 'bad men' can turn out to have good hearts, decency and generosity. Men (and women) do things in youth which they may regret in age.
His narrator, a one-tale-wonder author, is an excellent person to accompany us on a journey, taking in boats, trains, automobiles and horses, rodeos, movie making, turtles, orange groves and true love.
Now i suppose there may be another 7 year wait while Enger writes number 3. There's something fitting about the slow landscape he describes and his own time taken in writing!
on 14 September 2010
What marks out this novel from other 'road' fiction is its narrator, Monte Beckett. He's eloquent, charming, naive and loyal. He wears the novel's dark themes lightly.
I think this is a wonderful book and recommend it even if, like me, it doesn't seem to be your preferred genre.
The line above, in the title to this review, is attributed to John Gardner and describes "some disruption of order - the usual novel beginning". Well, that's what you get here. Within a few pages a stranger rows into town, and he and our narrator are off on a journey.
I like Westerns set on the cusp of the modern age, where the old and new fall into constant conflict, and I like those western journeys to involve a man who is seeking something while himself being pursued. And that's what you have here, along with some adventure, some humor, and some calm reflection about forgiveness and redemption.
This book is graceful, improbable, thoughtful and, ultimately, hopeful. It's not heavy-handed, and the story, its telling, and its twists and turns are more than enough to satisfy even if you put the gentle message aside.
on 1 June 2012
This is a story that moves with a kind of quickness and agility. You don't ever get bogged down. I read half the book in one sitting and then found myself constantly sneaking peaks over the next few days, eager to know what happens next. This is really such a well-written novel and so enjoyable. I encourage you to give it a try.
Four INTRIGUING Stars!! The novel "So Brave, Young, and Handsome" is set in the waning days of the Old West in 1915 and follows the exploits of Monte Becket, a 'flash in the pan' writer who achieves some national notoriety for his first cowboy novel. Novelist Leif Enger weaves actual characters, historical events, and locales into his second entertaining novel which follows the well-received "Peace Like A River". While attempting to sustain his fledgling writing career, Becket encounters his neighbor Glendon, a fascinating old-timer who builds boats. As Becket and his family become enthralled by the neighbor, Becket learns Glendon is about to leave town in search of a wife whom Glendon deserted many years ago, seeking redemption for the shameful act. Becket is invited to accompany Glendon on the trip to California by train and his family agrees to the trip.
Glendon was actually a hardbitten criminal in previous years with a price on his head and Becket learns of this later on in the novel. This begins a remarkable chase across the US, seen from the points of view of the pursuers and the pursued, that begins in Minnesota and heads west, introducing us to a fascinating group of characters and scenarios. Enger introduces a real-life very compelling lawman, Charles Siringo, into the story with considerable dramatic license. The only flaws in the novel concern complacent family-man Becket's poor decisions at points in the novel and the availability of funds to certain characters. If one can suspend belief past those two minor flaws, which somewhat bothered me, this is a rip-roaring 'end of the Wild West days' novel, full of gripping events, unique characters and vistas, chases, towns, horses, cars, trains, and one other conveyance that figures prominently. If Mr Enger had Monte mentally 'on the job' the entire time, it might have been even better. Even so, this enjoyable page-turner of a novel, presented in short, highly readable sub-chapters is Definitely Recommended. Four FASCINATING Stars!! (Soft-cover, advance copy)
on 13 January 2014
Loved "Peace Like a River" so much, and waited a long time for another book from the same author. Maybe my expectations were too high and I could only be disappointed, but I found the story aimless and didn't really care what happened to the protagonists.