An unnamed man has been on death row for… he’s not sure how long, really. He’s plagued by visions of golden horses racing beneath the ground, of tiny men living in the walls, of vines that kill. He’s crazy, but he’s been crazy for years – and it’s hard to tell anyway, because death row isn’t a place where sane men end up. It’s a delicate ecosystem, a world populated by the fallen, the falling, and those struggling desperately to rise into something better than what they have become. The unnamed man will never rise, and he knows that, but he still has hopes and needs, still has people who remember him, and most importantly, still has important insights about his world and its broken inhabitants.
The Enchanted could very easily be a grim, dire slog. Given the content, I don’t think anyone would be particularly shocked if it were. Instead, Rene Denfeld approaches her world – an awful one by any stretch – with vivid imagination that gives odd, implacable life to her setting and characters. Once you settle into the book’s jagged rhythms, the penitentiary will begin to fill out, the cast will begin to sprawl, and the book you thought you were reading will fall by the wayside.
Rene Denfeld, who has a history as an investigator for death row cases, peppers the book liberally with insights about every aspect of the business. It isn’t just the unnamed ‘lady’ investigating one of the men for his appeal, though her insights on the world these men have come from are particularly fascinating. Denfeld digs into prison corruption, food, mental illness, how favors are traded – some of her topics are common to the genre, but all are approached with unique insight and careful examination that could only come from experience.
The Enchanted is… something special. Rene Denfeld’s unique voice and stilted prose may take some time to begin to appreciate, but the rewards for the readers willing to dive into the deep end with her will be ample. This is a wonderfully inventive novel, filled with surprises and memorable moments, but even more than that, it’s a warm, smart book that acknowledges the hope and wonder that can be found in even the darkest places on Earth.
Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in rural Ohio. He’s been writing online for over 5 years now, and you can currently find more of his work at read/RANT and Comics Crux.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.