The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld
The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.
Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption—ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.
Review: This is a difficult book to review. I can barely explain what it’s about let alone tell you why I love it.
The Enchanted is narrated by an omniscient death-row inmate. He’s an unusual guy. He believes that golden horses live under the prison, men live inside the walls, and creatures come out to steal the warmth from the urns of cremated prisoners. The unnamed narrator tells the story of the prison and the people who live and work there.
I’ve always struggled with adult literary fiction because a lot of it is plotless. This book also lacks a strong plot, but the characters are so compelling that I wanted to keep reading. The narrator tells several intertwining stories. One of them is the romance that happens between a death penalty investigator and a fallen priest. Another story is about how a corrupt guard’s greed permanently alters the life of a teenage prisoner. The final major story is about a death-row inmate who is eagerly awaiting his own execution and fighting the efforts to get his death sentence overturned. Through it all, the narrator reveals his own life story and explains how he ended up on death row. It’s hard to tell which stories are real and which are a product of the narrator’s imagination.
The writing in this book is some of the best writing I’ve read in a long time. It’s eerie. I especially love the descriptions of the cremations and the creatures that come out to hug the warm urns. I thought about those creepy creatures for a long time after finishing the book.
This story is brutal. There is rape and murder and many forms of abuse. Most of the characters are horrible people, but the author humanizes them. They aren’t likeable at all, but it’s easy for the reader to understand how the characters ended up in prison. The death-row inmates are not one-dimensional monsters. They are complex (and profoundly screwed-up) humans. All of the characters are realistic and fascinating to read about.
The ending is haunting. No matter what your opinions are about the death penalty, the ending will make you think. It’s powerful in a quiet sort of way.
I do have an issue with how this book is advertised. I read the book because I saw it labeled as ‘magical realism’ on a website, but I don’t think ‘magical realism’ is an accurate label. This book is not like other stories I’ve read in that genre. I think that people who go into the book wanting magical realism will be disappointed. All of the magic seems to happen in the narrator’s head. He uses it as a way to cope with being in a terrible environment. So, I’d recommend abandoning all of your expectations before starting the book.
This bizarre little story is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. If you’re okay with slower-paced books, I’d highly recommend this one.