The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

What is so enchanting about prison magical realism tale "The Enchanted"?

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THE ENCHANTED is not my typical read – or at least not my typical review, if you rather. It’s literary fiction telling the story of a man on death row with mental problems as he tells a story about life behind bars and also the stories of people around him, particularly a mitigation specialist (which our author knows lots about since she is one – it’s a person who does intensive research to put together last ditch appeals for inmates) and a fallen priest who counsels the inmates. And even though it’s a contemporary tale, Denfeld weaves in magic and lyricism to create a book reminiscent in its storytelling of THE NIGHT CIRCUS, except set in a prison.

Trust me, it’s super good.

We follow a nameless man who is on death row for reasons we are initially not told, a man with a number of psychiatric issues that has left him mute and lost in a dreamlike state full of golden horses and tiny men and books provided to him by a compassionate warden who sees him for what he is – a disturbed, pitiful man.

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.”

Denfeld’s biggest strength is her prose, which brings to mind Erin Morgenstern’s effortlessly evocative writing from the aforementioned NIGHT CIRCUS. The writing is nothing short of amazing, painting a gorgeous yet bleak picture of life behind bars. Our narrator is a man who has turned his time in prison into a landscape littered with magical elements due to his multitude of issues. He’s fearful and feared by those around him because of his past.

At the same time, his story is one of redemption. Maybe not for himself, no, but for telling the stories of those around him and weaving tales to keep his mind afloat and alive under the crushing weight of reality – he’s on death row for an unspeakable crime, and nothing will save him.

Comparing it to Stephen King and Alice Sebold is a bit incorrect. Yes, in a way it’s reminiscent of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and THE GREEN MILE, but Alice Sebold? Not really. It’s a lyrical novel about hope and the healing power of imagination when faced with the darkest of circumstances.

But it is a beautiful book, plain and simple.

Review originally posted on Book Brats February 14, 2014.

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