So Brave, Young, and BLAND (Book #3)

I was so looking forward to reading Leif Enger's new novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome.  Unfortunately, it did not stack up or compare to the beautiful story of Peace like a River, his first novel.  Yes, at times the story clipped along at a brisk pace, but those instances did not occur until the second half of the book.

The story starts with Monte Beckett, a writer attempting and failing at his second novel, his son, Redstart, his wife, Susannah, and Glendon Hale, the mysterious boat builder and river navigator.  These characters come together in a rather predictable fashion and it stays like that in the beginning.  Soon Hale reveals that he will be leaving to make reparations with his ex-wife in Mexico and asks Beckett to come along.  Thus begins a cross-continental journey from Minnesota to California.

As the two set off the reader slowly begins to learn more about each character.  We find out that Hale has been a fugitive for the past few decades for a range of crimes and that Beckett believes that he is a one-hit-wonder in the literary world.  Both are on a journey of salvation, in a sense, traveling mainly by water (typical in the salvation/journey of life realm).  Of course they encounter obstacles and detours along the way, mainly when they have to travel by car, picking up a young mechanic (Hood) and are pursued by an ex-Pinkerton detective (Siringo) whose mission is to capture Hale at all costs.  It's once they pick up Hood that the story finally gathers momentum and engages the reader.

The trio makes their way to the Hundred and One ranch, a traveling rodeo show, where Hood is determined to live and thrive.  It is here that the real action begins.  There's an accidental death, a flood of epic proportions, and several cases of backstabbing.  This forces the travelers to go their separate ways for a time and gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of Siringo, as he now becomes Beckett's main traveling companion.

Several minor characters pop in and out of the story and lend further depth to the main characters.  The reader meets figures from Hale's past who help to shed light on how and why Hale is the way he is.  We also meet characters who bolster Beckett's personal worth and courage.  Both characters are forced throughout the story to reflect on their decisions and actions and make amends along the way.

Hale and Beckett both eventually make it to California, their final destination after new information sends them in this direction.  It is here the pair end their physical journey and come to terms with their emotional one.  It is also in California where all of the characters are reunited in a sense.

Overall, I have to give this novel the following grades:  a C- for the first half and a B for the second.  As a whole I would rate this a high C or low B.  It wasn't on par with Enger's first novel and fell short of keeping me engrossed in the actions.  Better luck next time.


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