Friday, February 6, 2009

So Brave, Young, and Handsome: First Impressions

By now, I hope you've found time to read at least a few pages of So Brave, Young, and Handsome. I'm about 50 pages into it, but before we delve into discussions about the major themes, conflicts, and controversies, let's start by simply sharing a few of the passages or ideas we like and dislike. Here are mine:

Favorite Passage So Far: "Love is a strange fact--it hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. It makes no sense at all" (page 32).

Why I Like It: It's one of those beautiful moments where a writer takes words you've heard a thousand times and gives them new meaning. The additions of the words "a strange fact" and "it makes no sense at all" repackage the scriptural truth into a contemporary reality. I've seen love that endures all things, that lasts through mid-life crises and financial hardships and long separations and selfishness and all manner of human failings, and Enger's right. Love makes no sense, and lovers themselves make even less sense than that. That's why love's so beautiful, and that's why Susannah Becket is already my favorite character -- because she sees what her husband needs and is willing to endure loneliness just to make sure he gets it. I fear, though, that we won't see much more of her in the coming pages.

What's Bugging Me So Far: Redstart.

Why He's Bugging Me: The children Enger wrote about in Peace Like a River were near geniuses. They composed sweeping, epic poetry in their spare time, and they all saw the world with a crystal clarity and moral acuteness most people never achieve. Redstart appears to be cut from the same cloth, and while I respect children, I'm starting to wonder if Enger has ever met a real child.

Now it's your turn. Use the commets below to share your initial thoughts.


ChrisTani said...

I think I'm starting to pick up on a theme. Do any of you guys also think that Becket shows his feelings of failure through "disappearing?”

On page 15 Becket talks about a novel he started, and the protagonist in the novel was a man who slowly disappeared but nobody noticed. In fact, his family still loved him. I think that Becket is just like that protagonist. If you don't believe me, look at page 57 where Becket says he dreamed, "Susannah was there and laughing. In the dream I'd made some appalling error and kept confessing and confessing, yet she refused to recriminate me and would only laugh and suggest we go enjoy a nice picnic.” I think that Becket’s failure is going unnoticed because Susannah has never doubted him, and Becket needs Susannah to acknowledge his failure but still love him.

I know he feels like he is disappearing because he keeps talking about it! The very next page after Becket talks about his novel he talks about how the river wouldn’t care whether a log or a turtle or something else was on it. It wouldn’t even care if “[he was] nothing at all.” And later in the novel, this theme shows up again. Later, Becket enters a barbershop and is shocked to see his reflection in the mirror because he “was used to resembling what [he] was- a well meaning failure, a pallid disappointer of persons, a man fading (76).”
Finally, Becket says that if he goes home he “will disappear (81).” I wonder if Becket is leaving with Glendon because Glendon doesn’t need looking-out for. Glendon doesn’t expect anyone to be good or bad. When Becket is with Glendon he doesn’t have to be someone he isn’t, and maybe in that way he won’t disappear.

So anyway, I know that this comment sounds like a discussion board assignment or something but I am excited and interested in this theme. I wonder if you guys have any different spins on it.

Marianne Thomas said...

Hi there!

I lucked into a copy at my library this week and I've had a bit of time to read through the first few chapters.

I'm enjoying it.

Beckett's utter failure to produce a second book: feels like Enger is working through his own "sophomore slump" in this character. Not that I've published even (1) book yet -- I'm deep in the trenches of motherhood right now -- but I can empathize with this situation. The fear of failing as a writer never really leaves us, published or not.

Redstart - ?? Still early in the book for me to have a handle on him.

His wife, Susannah is another one I'm not certain about yet. Is she willfully ignorant? Deeply trusting and full of faith?

Glendon: I see a great contrast (foil) between Glendon and Becket. One man is a loner, a drinker, and earns his way in the world crafting with his hands. The other is a family man, sober, and crafts with words (though, failing at this, as mentioned above). This will be an interesting relationship to follow.

Enjoying the book, as I knew I would having loved Peace Like a River.

Thanks for the chance to chat books!

Professor Josh said...

Tani - what a great observation. I'll start tracing the disappearance idea as I keep reading. I'm puzzled (and troubled) by Beckett's saying he'll disappear if he goes home. How can returning to his loving wife and son result in his disappearance?

Marianne - Yes, I too wondered as I read the first few chapters about Enger's own pressure to produce a second novel. Surely, after the success of PLAR, any reasonable human would question his ability to produce such success again.

Also, I'd never thought of Susannah as "willfully ignorant," but now I see how this could be the case. Perhaps her faith in her husband is misguided?

Thanks for your comments.

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