Saturday, February 21, 2009

So Brave, Young, and Handsome: A Few Random Thoughts

I'm well overdue for a post about this month's featured book. I'm just over half-way through So Brave, Young, and Handsome, and to this point I have two nagging questions about it. Both stem from criticisms I have of the book, so forgive me if I sound overly-critical. At any rate, here's what's on my mind:

1. Why is Monte Beckett acting like such a moron?

Monte Beckett is traveling with a fugitive. He's also been helping this fugitive by lying to law enforcement officers and creating an alias. He's been given chance after chance to stop his flight from the law and go home to his loving wife and son. Yet, he keeps choosing to travel with Glendon, and by doing so he's diminishing his chances of ever seeing his family again. Monte loves his family (I think), so I can't figure out why he's doing this. He's being imprudent and somewhat moronic, and this is starting to make me dislike him.

Clearly, Monte's searching for something his family environment isn't giving him (adventure? independence? a story worth telling?), but he seems willing to sacrifice an awful lot to fill this lack.

I think he's giving up too much, and I don't really understand what he's looking for (and I don't think he knows what he's looking for either), so I'm finding it tough to let his idiocy slide.

2. Why isn't this book as good as Peace Like a River?

My apologies to those who haven't read it and won't be able to chime in here, but in my opinion, Peace Like a River is a much better book than So Brave, Young, and Handsome. In fact, I was so drawn into Peace Like a River that I plowed through it in two sittings. I've been muddling through So Brave, Young, and Handsome now for three weeks, and while it's good, I'm just not being drawn in like I was with Enger's first book.

In thinking about why, I've decided that Peace Like a River has two things going for it that So Brave, Young, and Handsome doesn't. The first is a compelling, "savior-figure" readers generally like. The father in Peace Like a River is noble and kind, but he's also rough around the edges. I love the opening scene in which the father punches a doctor cold and then raises one of his children from the dead. So Brave, Young, and Handsome has yet to give me a character who's instantly interesting and likable. Don't get me wrong. I like Monte Becket. I hope he makes it home to his loving wife, but if he doesn't, I probably won't be heartbroken. After all, he is being kind of a doofus (see point 1). I also like Glendon. I admire his putting his freedom on the line simply so he can make a face-to-face apology, but should he get shot just before the fulfillment of his quest, I'll also be okay. So, I've yet to find a character I can really get behind and root for (though Hood has promise).

The second thing Peace Like a River has that So Brave, Young, and Handsome lacks is Enger's beautiful commentary on God, religion, and miracles. The insights about spirituality in Peace Like a River were fun to read. I loved Enger's idea that a miracle was something that forced you to reinvent your view of reality. Miracles, he wrote, should be disturbing and shocking (like raising a dead man from his grave), not soft and fluffy (like rainbows and sunsets). In So Brave, Young, and Handsome, there's nothing yet that equals that kind of discussion.

I'd love to hear a few responses to these criticisms. I'd especially love someone to point out what I'm missing in So Brave, Young and Handsome and show me the brilliance there that I'm not yet seeing, but unless something changes soon, I'm anticipating a final review of this book that ends up being pretty lukewarm.

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