So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger: Book Review

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Cover of So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

5 Stars

Monte Becket is a postman in Minnesota in 1915. In his spare time, he wrote a swash-buckling adventure that somehow becomes something of a bestseller. No one is more surprised than Monte. As these things do, the success goes to Monte’s head and he quits his day job to become a fulltime author. And he hits a wall. There’s nothing there. He has written all the stories he has in him in this one story. We first encounter Monte when he has been fighting this writer’s block for about five years. He is sitting at his window one day, trying to meet his daily quota of 1000 words, when he glimpses a boatman row into view through the fog. The boatman is rowing standing up and facing forward as he laughs to himself like he has a delightful little secret. Who could resist that particular allure? Monte runs outside and invites the boatman in for coffee. The man just keeps rowing and laughing, but responds, “Some other time.” Eventually, Monte and his wife and young son have the opportunity to become friends with the boatman, whose name is Glendon Hale. As they become closer to Glen, they feel certain that the man has a past he is hiding. One day, Glen confesses to Monte that he was married to a young Mexican girl a long time ago. He left her for reasons of his own, but now he feels like he should find Blue, as he affectionately calls her, and apologize for leaving her the way that he did. He invites Monte to accompany him on his search. Upon his wife’s urging, Monte eventually agrees to go with Glen, and their adventure begins.

Okay, let’s just get it out there. This is not Peace Like a River. It’s just not. I missed Reuben and Swede. But–this is still a five star book. I love Leif Enger’s writing. Magic happens for me when he starts stringing words together. When I open one of his two books, I am lost in his world. When I was trying to describe Enger’s writing style to my husband, all I could say was, “It’s just–just–just perfect.” That’s the best I can do. It’s just perfect.

The characters are wonderfully complex. Monte is a scrupulously honest narrator. He doesn’t dwell on the moments when he might shine a little. He plays up the times when his cowardice gets the better of him. I don’t want to give away anything else, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the other characters are well-developed also. I told my husband five minutes after finishing this book, “I miss those characters already.” I wasn’t really exaggerating.

The plot moved along at a good pace and the story was engaging. I never wished that we could just get on with it. The characters moved in and out at just the right time, within events that happened at just the right time, with just the right amount of foreshadowing.

The story is a good story in and of itself. But there are larger themes hidden within the pages, and I loved those too. We’ve all read the books about how family isn’t necessarily the people you’re related to, it’s the people you choose and who choose you who are always there for you. True. But Enger takes it a step farther. He seems to believe that family can be made up of the people you’re related to and the people you choose. A true family will always have room for more people, blood relatives or not. Love grows more love. I like it.

There are more of these, but this is getting long.

I was so nervous starting this book. I was afraid that I would be disappointed because Peace Like a River is one of my two absolute favorite books. So Brave, Young, and Handsome is a wonderful book in its own right. Don’t overlook it because it’s not as good as Peace Like a River. Peace was something like a seven star, once-in-a-lifetime book. This one is “just” a five star. But think about that. Everyone runs out to buy a five star book, so give this one a chance. You won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

Reviewed May 31, 2008

Read an excerpt.

Read more reviews at Chamber Four, As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves, and Michelle, Ma Belle.

If you liked So Brave, Young, and Handsome, you might also like Peace Like a River.

Buy So Brave, Young, and Handsome at

Friday Flashback Reviews, a feature at The Introverted Reader

Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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