So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

The Good, The Bad and The Somewhere-In-Between…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along.
For we all loved our comrade, so brave, young, and handsome,
We all loved our comrade, although he’d done wrong.

so braveMonte 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 will each find what they’re looking for – but perhaps not as either they or the reader might expect.

Charles Siringo
Charles Siringo

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.

Leif Enger
Leif Enger

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 makes this an enjoyable and nostalgic read overall, especially for anyone who fondly remembers the glory days of the cowboy movie.

To see the great review that encouraged me to read this, please click through to frayeddustjackets’ blog. Thanks for the inspiration, frayeddustjackets!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

18 thoughts on “So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

  1. The professor always preferred the Sheriff!!! John Wayne is neatio; John Wayne is coolio; in fact, the professor IS John Wayne.

    You know, the professor has never read a Western story, and I don’t know why.

    The Good, The Bad and The Somewhere-In-Between… 😆 Is this FEF’s?

    Give T&T another pat, and….3 days!!!

  2. FictionFan – Isn’t it interesting how sometimes we start out be being deeply drawn into a novel, but then the spark fades… Still, this one sounds like a nice blend of historical setting and adventure. I may give it a go.

    • Yes, it’s when the characters seem to be fitted to the plot rather than the plot to the characters, I think, if that makes sense. But definitely worth reading for the setting and the atmosphere…

  3. The bit that stuck out for me was the bit about description coming before plot. Every plot has to be so water tight now, and then they expect description as well!

    • Haha! I know – and then even if the plot and description’s good, there’s still characterisation, growth, conflict, resolution…Thank goodness I’m a reader and not a writer! 😉

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