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The Enchanted: A Novel

The Enchanted: A Novel

Автором Rene Denfeld

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The Enchanted: A Novel

Автором Rene Denfeld

4/5 (17 оценки)
229 pages
4 hours
Mar 4, 2014


A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King

This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.

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 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, honesty and corruption—ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

Mar 4, 2014

Об авторе

Rene Denfeld is an internationally bestselling author, licensed investigator, and foster mother. She is the author of the novels The Butterfly Girl, The Child Finder and The Enchanted. Her novels have won numerous awards including a French Prix, and The New York Times named her a 2017 hero of the year for her justice work. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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The Enchanted - Rene Denfeld


Chapter 1

This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.

I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway. I see the doorways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clear air. I see the chamber where the cloudy medical vines snake across the floor, empty and waiting for the warden’s finger to press the red buttons. I see the secret basement warrens where rusted cans hide the urns of the dead and the urns spill their ashes across the floor until the floods come off the river to wash the ashes outside to feed the soil under the grasses, which wave to the sky. I see the soft-tufted night birds as they drop from the heavens. I see the golden horses as they run deep under the earth, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs. I see where the small men hide with their tiny hammers, and how the flibber-gibbets dance while the oven slowly ticks.

The most wonderful enchanted things happen here—the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow.

I hear them, the fallen priest and the lady. Their footsteps sound like the soft hush of rain over the stone floors. They have been talking, low and soft, their voices sliding like a river current that stops outside my cell. When I hear them talk, I think of rain and water and crystal-clear rivers, and when I hear them pause, it is like the cascade of water over falls.

They are so aware of each other, they don’t need to speak in complete sentences.

Heading now? he asks.

Room, she says.


Aren’t they all? Again I hear the rain in her voice.

The lady hasn’t lost it yet—the sound of freedom. When she laughs, you can hear the wind in the trees and the splash of water hitting pavement. You can sense the gentle caress of rain on your face and how laughter sounds in the open air, all the things those of us in this dungeon can never feel.

The fallen priest can hear those things in her voice, too. That’s what makes him afraid of her. Where can that freedom lead? Nowhere good, his pounding heart says.

Which one? he asks.

The lady is one of the few who call us by our names. She says her new client’s name. It drops like a gem from her mouth. She has no idea how precious it sounds.

York. The man in the cell next to mine.

The other men on the row say his mother named him for a slave who traveled with Lewis and Clark, or after his royal English father from some fabled city overseas—only in prison can you get away with a lie that big.

York knows the truth doesn’t matter in here. Inside, the lies you tell become the person you become. On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their actual size. In here, people grow into their shadows.

I press my face against the crumbling wall. The soft rocks absorb their voices, but I have learned how to listen. I pick their words off the moss and stone.

He is warning her that this case, above all others, will be tough.

Ready and prepared, I hear him say.

Soon? the lady asks.

I can hear the pleading in her voice. How can he not hear it? But he doesn’t. He is too busy being scared of her.

The fallen priest doesn’t hear the whipping in his own voice when he talks to the lady. He doesn’t hear the longing and desire. He doesn’t feel the wonderful wildness of the world. Though he lives inside this enchanted place, he doesn’t see the enchantment in the lady; he doesn’t see the enchantment in here or anywhere.

For me, being taken to this dungeon was like landing in sanctuary. For the priest, it was worse than exile. He came here not long ago, with his face dejected and the fluorescent lights shining on his thinning hair, the wrinkles drying around his eyes.

This place freezes you. Then one day they thaw you out and take you to the back of Cellblock H, and you are dead.

Catch you later, he says.

I drop my head from the wall.

The lady walks past my cell. I slide along the cell wall toward the bars, careful not to let her see me. If she turns, I will jump on my cot and hide under the blanket. Instead, she keeps walking.

I creep closer to the bars to watch her walk. I catch a triangle of shirt at the bottom of her narrow back, the back of her heel. I have become practiced at this game, so sometimes I catch more: a tendril of shining black hair, a glimpse of a seashell ear.

I listen carefully as her footsteps recede down the row, savoring each tiny, muffled clop, saving it for later.

The fallen priest is also there, on the other side of my cell, watching her go. Slowly, he turns and walks the other way. His footsteps sound leaden. An inmate calls to him—that would be Striker, on my other side—and the priest moves reluctantly to the cell bars, ready words of comfort on his lips. He has sweat under his oxford shirt from talking to the lady. Sweat rolls down his calf and falls from his bare ankle under his loafers to the porous stone. It seeps down below to the underground caverns where the golden horses run, but no one sees.

The lady doesn’t look back at the fallen priest. She strides away, her back straight and firm. She thinks of the priest and twitches the thoughts away. She needs a clear mind for meeting her new client.

The men watch her pass silently. No one catcalls the lady.

At the far end of the hall, a narrow set of ancient stairs rises out of the gloom. We are buried here in the dungeon, deep under the cellblocks above. The cells here have never seen sunlight, and the lightbulbs in the stairwells are old and flickering.

The tight dungeonlike stairs are dark corners and spittle-drying places that a wise man avoids. The lady takes a deep breath and plunges up them. Claustrophobia has always plagued her. It has taken her years to get used to entering this prison, with its loud slamming gates and shocking claps of metal locks and her own deep memories of knowing what it is like to feel trapped. She got over her fears in the way she gets over everything—she pretends they don’t exist.

Still, the stairs in our prison disturb her. Once she happened to glance up at the wall and saw a torn fingernail dangling from a crack in the stone. She knows about the crimes that take place in our enchanted place; the brutal acts that the outside never hears about, the gougings and rapes and killings. She knows these crimes occur not just against inmates but against guards and people like her.

The stairs are so old, they slope at the middle. The stone is porous and absorbs blood. It is true, ancient lettings have left pink stains. The stains have soaked into the margins of the old stones, the lady thinks.

She gets to the top of the landing and lets out a sigh of relief. The door leads down a silent hallway. Now she is at least on the ground floor. She turns down another narrow hall and climbs another short, steep set of stairs.

There, finally, at the top of an old alcove, is the room they call the Library of the Guards.

It is a large open room lined with shelf after shelf of huge ancient leather books. These are the ledgers of the dead, kept back before the days of computers. The guards sometimes pull down the old ledgers for visitors, to show them the archaic names and the spidery writing. A great-uncle of mine is in one ledger, though I would never openly admit to that. Elbert James Knowles, the faint handwriting says, and the date of his death. My own death, I figure, will be written in invisible ink, wound into the secret channels of the walls, where the little men climb with their hammers. Of computers I cannot say. I have never seen one.

In the middle of the Library of the Guards is an old scratched desk. A guard sits bleakly in the too small chair. He is large and looks heavy with discomfort. He is having his meal break. He eats from the blue regulation lunch box that all the guards carry, with an accordion lid and sections that can be flipped open easily to search for contraband. Every now and then they bring in a drug dog to sniff the lunches, though really, there is no way to stop contraband altogether, at least not in this prison, where the temptations are great, the stress is high, and corruption is common. When a guard can sell a pack of smokes for a hundred dollars inside, you bet the temptation is there.

The guard waves at the lady with a handful of squished sandwich. She is free to enter the door at the far end of the room.

Inside this door is the death row visiting room. The death row inmates jokingly call it the parole room.

The death row visiting room is small. There is a beautiful old yellow glass fixture on the ceiling—not just a bulb in a metal cage but a real glass fixture that throws a warm light. There is a real wood table, too, and you can pretend it smells faintly of lemon even if you know that no one here cleans with anything beyond sudsy gray water.

The important part is the window on the far wall. If the inmates strain hard, they can see the sky through that window. The clouds might be fluffy and white one day, traced with pink and mauve the next, or lit on fire from a sunset.

The window is the reason the death row inmates go to the visiting room to see their lawyers and investigators. The lawyers think their clients want to see them. No, they want to see the window. When the visit ends and they are led in chains back to the dungeon underground, where they spend their days trapped in a six-by-nine cell with no window and no fresh air, a flat cot and open toilet with an endless circle of dark brown in the bowl and a flickering lightbulb in a metal cage, they can remember that scrap of sky. They might go months down in the dungeon between visits, even years. But on those rare days when they are summoned to the visiting room, they know they will see the sky.

When they return to the dungeon, they can tell the others. It was reddish today, and the clouds were the color of plums, they might say. Or I saw a bird—so pretty. No one will dispute them. There are some things people lie about in here—okay, people lie about most things in here. But there is one thing on death row that no one lies about, and that is what they saw in those scraps of sky.

York is already in the cage, waiting for the lady.

The cage is just big enough to hold one man. It stands nine feet tall and is made of lathe-carved wooden bars as hard as iron. Back in the early 1800s, a company in Louisiana called Dugdemona Holdings made these cages from wood they imported from Africa on the slave ships. The slaves made the cages and sometimes died in them. The cages were sold to small towns where jailers needed a place to hold the ranting or insane, and to plantations where owners needed a holding cell for runaways. The Dugdemona cages became popular with correction officers and revolutionaries, as cells for prisoners and for torture. More than one man has died of starvation in a Dugdemona cage.

There are only a handful of these famous cages left in the country. One is in our enchanted place, and it is used to hold the death row inmates for their professional visits. This is where York waits for the lady.

The lady sits in the single chair facing the cage. Her movements are deliberate and relaxed.

The lady and York study each other.

York’s eyes are dark and oblong, like a bird of prey’s. He has high cheekbones set in a thin face, a narrow skull capped with thin dark hair. Despite the years underground, his skin has a high, resinous color. Usually, the men who work with the lady look bleached by years spent living under the earth. The white men turn a strange translucent shade, like clear jelly, and the black men turn the sad color of eggplant. York has retained color, as if in defiance.

The lady sees York is a small man, bent and oddly formed, as if his bones grew funny. Even in the cage, he holds himself with a sense of contained force.

His ankles are chained above his paper slippers. A heavy bull chain is attached to one ankle cuff, and the bull chain threads back between the wood bars to a huge bolt embedded in the stone wall. The bull chain is in case he tries any funny business. The funny business never ends up very funny, I have noticed.

The lady sees that York’s front teeth are oddly notched with a strange little groove in the middle—as if God, or the devil, wanted to fork him. These notched teeth are surprisingly clean. He brushes them three times a day, he will tell anyone with his monkey grimace. He flosses with bits of thread he pulls from the cover on his cot. Four hundred count, he chortles to anyone who is listening outside his cell door. York keeps up a constant litany on the row. Sometimes he will repeat the same soliloquy for days, until the guards swear they will go mad for listening, and then he will retreat inside his cell and stare at his hands.

York likes to think about what other people are thinking. He believes it gives him an edge. He says that twelve years on the row have honed his psychic abilities, but then, he claims, he was always psychic. Just as a blind man learns to smell better, York says his life has helped him read minds. The intense deprivation of our dungeon, he says, has made him better at what he does best: getting inside your head.

Of course, when he says this, the guards roll their eyes and comment that the only head York gets inside is his own.

Right now York believes the lady is thinking about him. He thinks she is feeling sorry for him, her poor new client who has spent twelve years waiting for death.

The lady isn’t thinking that at all. She isn’t even thinking about York. She is wondering how bad the roads will be on the way home. The spring weather has been fickle, and floods might close the single road leading away from our enchanted place. If that happens, she will have to stay overnight at the nearest motel, with its clanking radiators and mildew smell. Her mind is disconnected from her new client. It works better for her this way. She hasn’t even brought a notebook to the interview.

The lady smiles at York and relaxes into her chair. She has been on her feet all day, and sitting is a treat. The window shows the sky is full of dark rain clouds, as dark as slate. The yellow light fixture above them is warm.

In a prison full of liars, the lady has the advantage of being completely authentic. Even a man like York—especially a man like York—can see there is no game in her smile. There is warmth and kindness and something that looks like steel. You can tell me anything, her eyes say, because I will see the beauty in everything you say.

Eventually, York has to say something, anything, has to make his mouth move and ease the friction from his throat. The words tumble out as rough as rocks, but they are soon worn smooth, and more and more he hears himself talking—blessed surcease, a person just to listen to me—and the vowels round and the consonants grow into planets that become the universe that expands in the light in her dark eyes. She hears me, he thinks wildly—she hears me.

York talks and talks until his words sound like poetry even to him. He tells her why he has volunteered to die. It isn’t just that it is torture, he says, being locked in a cage. It’s never being allowed to touch anyone or go outside or breathe fresh air. I’d like to feel the sun again just once.

Her eyes show a sudden distance. What he said is true, but it isn’t true enough.

Okay. I’m tired of being meaningless, he admits. I’m done, okay?

He talks about the confused mess inside of him. He says everyone thinks sociopaths are super-smart criminals, but he is just a messed-up guy who doesn’t know why he does what he does. Except there is like a switch in him, and when the switch flips on, he cannot stop.

If it made sense, I would tell you, he says. When you kill people, it is supposed to make sense. But it doesn’t. It never does.

The lady nods. She understands.

With each secret he tells her, her eyes get darker and more satisfied. York can see from the precious slot of window that the rain clouds have lifted and the sky itself is dark. He has been speaking forever; he has told her secrets he has been afraid to tell anyone, secrets he suspects she knew all the time.

The look in her eyes is of a person who drank from the end of a gun barrel and found it delicious. Her eyes are filled with a strange sort of wondrous sadness, as if marveling at all the beauty and pain in the world.

She stands up. For the first time he notices how tiny she is. She looks like a little dark-haired sparrow. Her equally dark, oblong bird eyes could be his eyes, her narrow skull his own. But her bones are long and finely made, while his are crooked and bent.

She raises her hand in a gesture that looks like goodbye but also says yes.

He lifts his hand cautiously. His fingers are

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  • (3/5)
    Wow - this is an intense book. I knew the premise but still found the book darker than I expected. Everyone talked of the beautiful writing and yes, that is true in parts, but I just found it so depressing. Maybe because it is summer and I wasn't quite in the mood, or maybe because I work with kids and hate to think of kids damaged beyond repair. I also found parts of it confusing, I missed the book club meeting on this book and I really wish I had had the chance to discuss it with others. Did find the redemption of some characters as a glimmer of light and hope.
  • (5/5)
    A sad, beautiful, story of life in prison and those awaiting death. Told from many perspectives, the warden, a fallen priest, a legal investigator but mostly the voice of an inmate on death row. Their stories and feelings, not only sadden the reader, but give an entirely new view to this world. Written with such thought and beauty you become so enthralled with the vision that you forget it is a prison and not an Enchanted place. highly recommend
  • (5/5)
    This is Rene Denfeld's debut novel and will be published on 13/03/2014. I'd like to thank everyone at The Lovereading Review Team for the ARC of this book, which I received in return for an honest review.A death row inmate sits in his underground cell in a high security prison. Although he does not speak, he daydreams in words which weave a magical world far removed from his stark reality. The darkness of the prison world is unveiled through the words he listens to in his dreams. He listens to the lives of those around him and shares his profound perceptions here.This captivating story focuses on several different people including a death penalty investigator referred to as 'The Lady'; The Priest; York, the prisoner in the next cell and The Lady's current client; and a young lad experiencing his traumatic first prison sentence. The deeply personal and disturbing childhood of the lady, along with York's, is described in heart-wrenching detail using the words the prisoner hears.The author's intricate use of vocabulary to convey the raw emotion of this beautifully told and haunting tale make this a truly mesmerising read. The attention to the tiniest detail at every step along the journey contributes to the quality of this brilliantly seductive book. 4.5/5 stars.
  • (4/5)
    Random Thoughts•Haunting and heartfelt•Makes you think about those we judge without knowing of their pain and the world they were raised in•At times I was mesmerized by the authors prose. His words are thoughtful and lyrical•The jumping around between points of view is very jarring at times and quite frankly I was often confused (but hey that is more me and my lack of intelligence) Currently re-reading the story to see if I missed a few things•A truly perfect book for a class discussion or book club (Redemption, nature vs. nurture, prison, reform, evil, and way too many more to mention)•Could not put the story down even with the issues I had with it. The writing is too magical and the story so fascinating. Reminded me a little of The Green Mile•Raw and heartbreaking - bawled my eyes out•Wanted more background and answers, but again this is just me, the story works beautifully without background and answers. I'm just needy and want to know everything, though lets face it in this case I think the details would just make me feel hatred•Insightful and shows a true knowledge of the penal system (which after reading Denfeld's bio I can totally understand)•Loved the passages about books and the power they have to help one escape•Interesting that one of the most despicable characters is a guardMemorable Quotes"The bull chain is in case he tries any funny business. The funny business never ends up very funny, I have noticed.""Such men are like diseased dogs or demented animals. You can bemoan what made them killers, but once they are, the best thing is to put them down with mercy.""It seems wrong to him. No one deserves death more than someone like York or Striker or especially Arden. And yet those are the deaths that others will say are unnatural, not that of his dear sweet wife, a woman who raised three kids and never did anyone a wrong pass.""Even monsters need a person who truly wants to listen - to hear - so that someday we might find the words that are more than boxes. Then maybe we can stop men like me from happening."4 Dewey'sI received this from HarperCollins as part of the Indigo Insiders program and am in no way required to review or promote
  • (5/5)
    The Enchanted simply blew me away. Seriously, folks, since when does a book about death row completely knock someone down, because that's what happened to me with this one. I went into it thinking there would be a whole Green Mile vibe and walked away feeling as if I'd been suckerpunched. Not only did this book completely absorb me, it made me reconsider everything I thought I knew about pre-judging a person.Read the rest of this review at The Lost Entwife on March 22, 2014.
  • (4/5)
    This book certainly piqued my interest. It was the type of book that I wanted to read in a quiet room. I liked the writing and thought it moved quickly enough. Though, I never really felt connected to any of the characters, the were all interesting enough that I still wanted to keep reading to find out how it would all end. I liked the lady's character the most I think. The fallen priest didn't really interest me at all. I thought the end was rather anticlimactic in that the most interesting thing happened before, during the final running of the horses.
  • (5/5)
    A wonderful book! The enchanted place is a prison, specifically death row. The magic of this book is that the main characters lack names! There is the lady, the fallen priest, and a nameless inmate. There are others in these walls- the golden horses, the small men with hammers, and the flibber-gibbets. And a great surprise reveal 4 pages before the end! I loved this story!
  • (5/5)
    This was a Santathing pick for me and it's one of the best books I've ever read. The writing is transcendent, with love and hope as central themes. The story is all at once gritty and gorgeous, delicate and harsh, luminescent and darkly violent. Some authors write out of talent, this one writes out of calling. Can't recommend it highly enough.
  • (5/5)
    It was an amazing read and I really really enjoyed it. The best thing I can say about this book is what is written on the back cover of this book and was said by Katherine Dunn :"The enchanted is unlike anything I've ever read. Its exquisitely constructed web is spun in that least exquisite locale, death row. The powerful central story arches over multiple, piercing subplots, and devastating fables that stare straight into the face of horror. But it is the opposite of depressing : it's a jubilant celebration that explores human darkness with a profound lyric tenderness and not one jot of sentimentality. It's probably mad to perceive and convey so much beauty in the midst of the vile, but this particular lunacy is contagious and seductive. The reader comes to see through Denfeld's stranger lens, and to savor the richness of the view long after the final page has turned."
  • (5/5)
    With the author's almost poetic style of prose, this is an enchanted book. It is about an ancient prison and its residents, especially those in the dungeon (aka death row). While most wouldn't consider this crumbing relic enchanted, it is surely an otherworldly place. The rules and customs of the outside world do not apply. This account of the prison and its inmates lets us peek into this other world and gain insights into prison culture and the unfortunate lives its residents have endured. In learning about "the lady" who works to save the men in the dungeon from their demise, we find out about her background and theirs. We also discover the imperfect story of the fallen priest. I love this book! It delivers an engaging story with many insights that give us plenty to think about.
  • (3/5)
    I'm torn, actually. On the one hand, the prose is gorgeous. Guilt and despair and weariness blend themselves together and ooze out of the pages. Yes. There's guilt and despair and weariness and monstrosity and horror and a slightest bit of hope, but there isn't any self-pity in Denfeld's words. Of that, I am impressed.On the other hand, the author pays so much attention to her lyricism and mood that she forgets about the characters. There are a myriad of monsters in here, but none of them seem real. The "I", especially, as well as "the lady", are exceptionally vague, and there are too many narrators in the book to truly know who the story belongs to. One starts to delve into the mind of the priest, of the white-haired boy (why did he have to have white-hair??) but then is abruptly pulled out by the author to focus on another character, whose story is never quite fully told. Their worlds are never revealed. There's nothing solid about this book. I also feel like the lady could have benefitted from a name, as with the priest. I don't see the point of them being nameless, especially if they are 3rd person narrators in the story. The magical realism I don't get. If its just thrown in sporadically as some sort of vague, extended metaphor, I'd rather it isn't thrown in there at all.
  • (5/5)
    This book defies genre classification. It is a literary novel that is strangely beguiling. It is told by one of the most unforgettable narrators I've ever encountered. This man is a man without words. He cannot or will not speak, but he speaks inside his head. He misses nothing and spares no one in the telling. This man is on death row at a very old and very corrupt maximum security prison. He has been on the row for many years, and during those years he has carefully studied all the people who walk by his cell. This list of people includes guards, other death row prisoners, a defrocked priest who works inside the prison, and a death penalty investigator who searches for mitigating circumstances that may help get prisoners off the row and into general population. There are many people who walk by the prison cell of this inmate, and most of them do their best not to ever look at him, but he watches everything and misses nothing. At the same time, he shares his quite brilliant mind with many mythical creatures that are as real to him as the people he sees. And through his eyes, they become real to us. There are the golden horses that stampede underground. There are the tiny little men who hammer and scratch inside the stone walls, and there are the hated fllibber-gibbets who dance in the crematorium every time a dead body is placed in the the big oven. All of these horrible things are described so brilliantly that they leap off the page as we read. The prose in this novel is absolutely breathtaking and it makes the people and things within this prison come alive. It is a book that shines a light on a subject that is not covered much in literature, and in the end, it depicts the strength and resiliency of human nature, even under the most appalling circumstances.
  • (4/5)
    Narrated primarily by an unnamed death row inmate at an aging prison, this is a surprisingly lyrical tale that shifts its focus between a defrocked priest, a lady investigator (she is always referred to simply as "The Lady"), a warden with a wife dying of cancer, unscrupulous prison guards, convicts with aggressive appetites, and the aforementioned death row inmate. Our narrator is either exceptionally perceptive or imaginative or both. He has done something terrible in the past, and something less terrible but very bad while inside which necessitated his move to the solitary confinement of death row. But the details are sketchy. We learn much more about another death row inmate named York whose background The Lady is investigating. Perhaps not untypically he comes from an exceedingly impoverished and abusive childhood. It's not a justification for his actions, which remain unspecified but are said to have been horrific. Rather it is a history, something that traces a path from A to B. Not that such a path is itself inevitable, as evidenced by The Lady's surprisingly similar childhood.At times the novel reads more like a non-graphic, graphic novel, if that makes any sense. Your could easily imagine it as a graphic novel. Maybe that is simply a sign of its slightly vague, unreal atmosphere. Indeed, "enchanted" is no bad descriptor for this effect. It is a compelling read but not predictable, at least for me. It was, as noted by many, a surprise.Gently recommended.
  • (3/5)
    Rene Denfeld’s debut novel, The Enchanted, is a visibly heart-felt work of fiction that plumbs the depths of human desolation and misery, but does so in a manner that leaves the reader somewhat emotionally detached from the action. The story takes place in a dilapidated, century old prison facility, and is set primarily in the death row cells in the prison basement. Though the details are left vague, we’re assured that all of the men on death row have done horrible things and deserve to be there, including the unnamed narrator, a slender self-effacing man who loves books and either cannot or chooses not to speak. We meet the other characters through this narrator, who is enabled by the author to inhabit their minds and follow their actions. Chief among this group is “the lady,” whose job is to investigate the cases of the condemned in search of mitigating circumstances that their lawyers can use to argue for having their sentences commuted or for a new trial. The case that occupies the lady throughout the novel is that of an inmate named York, for whom she is fighting despite the fact that he does not want her to and has expressed his wish that he be allowed to die. The lady’s search for evidence to support York’s case for a reduced sentence takes her to a town called Sawmills Falls, somewhere out in “blue country,” near the “emerald lakes.” It is here that she learns the tragic story of York’s childhood, a story that echoes her own bitter memories of growing up. Most of the novel follows the lady’s investigative efforts on York’s behalf and her eventual disillusionment when she fails to convince herself that what she’s doing is worthwhile. In between these chapters, the narrator switches the focus to other characters: the prison warden, whose wife is dying of cancer, a new arrival: the “white-haired boy,” whose indoctrination into prison life is immediate and brutal, death-row inmate Striker, whose sentence is carried out, the “fallen priest,” also unnamed, who is there to provide spiritual guidance, and corrupt prison guard Conroy. The novel is narrated in a meditative, almost dream-like manner, with space devoted to reflections upon the nature and purpose of human existence, the paradox of beauty amidst ugliness, the persistence of evil in a world most of us would prefer to believe is good, and the unsettling concept of living one’s life in full knowledge of the where, when and how of one’s own death. Denfeld, a death penalty investigator who has both fiction and non-fiction books to her credit, adds surrealistic touches to her story that may or may not be misguided, but which support the narrator in his contention that the prison is an “enchanted” place. The Enchanted is a novel that, emotionally speaking, occupies something of a neutral middle ground: it is by no means uplifting, but neither is it unequivocally depressing. What it does do, is take the reader to places where the vast majority of us don’t want to go and, thankfully, never will. And maybe that’s enough.
  • (5/5)
    Six-word review: Powerful portrayal of damnation and redemption.Extended review:I don't think I've ever chosen the word "stunning" to describe a book before, but I'll use it now.Many of the novels I read are extremely well written. Many use language beautifully, portray vivid characters in a deeply moving way, and present important themes with skill and grace. A good many are even strikingly original.But I've never read one like this. I have to call it stunning, nothing less, while wishing the word had not been so cheapened by overuse that it fails to convey the impact I'd like it to have.It's also not for the faint of heart. Strong sensory content runs the gamut from exquisitely beautiful to viscerally repugnant. Like the narrator, the reader must be able to take it all in and attend to it with focused awareness. Grief, pain, and horror that are too deep for words suffuse haunting images of a kind more often found in painting than in fiction.The story is set in the lowest level of an immense prison, where the speaker is an inmate on death row. Withdrawn deep into the shadows of his own cell, he also ranges far in his consciousness, taking us on an extraordinary journey of imagination.Here's a brief sample of Denfeld's prose:"The yard smells when it rains in the summer. It smells so strong that I can smell it way down in the depths of this dungeon. I can smell the dung from the golden horses rising through the dirt, and I think about each clod of mud and how it contains the history of the world: shards of mica and stone, glossy ribbons of clay too faint to see, the arm and leg of Eve, the pulsating pull of Adam. The taste of minerals can fling us out to sea and above to the skies. The world can be in one clod of dirt." (page 170)I don't want to offer a glimpse of the darker matter; a reader who chooses to take up this book should come to those passages in the author's own time, without preview. There is nothing gratuitous about it. It has its own magnificence.This book is one that will stay with me for a long time.
  • (4/5)
    The book was nothing like what I expected, but I loved it. The Enchanted is a heartbreaking look into a prison facility and the dark and ugly reality surrounding it-crooked guards, brutality, the loss of hope. Our narrator is a nameless convict, deep in the dungeons of death row. A ferocious reader, he becomes so absorbed in his own world that the prison becomes "The Enchanted Place", full of golden horses and little men with hammers. Told from this perspective, the story takes on a dreamlike, surreal quality. Quite unexpectedly I found myself empathizing with these broken men, despite having no illusions about the savagery of their crimes. The story prompts you to examine how these men came to be and why the committed the terrible deeds-as it goes into backgrounds of mental illness and abuse. Yet it does so in such a skilled and subtle manner that it didn't come off as some sort of manifesto against the death penalty. It's a heavy topic to be sure, but the writing was lyrical and magical and the story is really sticking with me. I would highly recommend.
  • (5/5)
    So much depth packed into less than 300 pages; a book unlike anything I’ve ever read. I was immediately enraptured by the narrator’s voice, visions and observations. The imagery is ripe for the imagination, and the reader quickly becomes consumed by the “enchanted” place. Chilling, gut-wrenching, gripping, and yet, somehow, inexplicably full of wonder. Both horrifying and hopeful. Poetic. Weaves a spell over the reader that transcends the story, the characters, and the death row setting to a place that is, well, enchanted.
  • (5/5)
    I just finished The Enchanted and have to add my voice to those who think it was incredible. The author, Rene Denfeld truly was a death penalty investigator. This is her first novel after having written only non fiction, and she does a superb job. The setting is a very old, outdated and nearly uninhabitable prison. I did have a bit of difficulty believing such a place could exist, but the public does have difficulty parting with money to pay for a criminal's well being. Magical Realism is one of the tags for the book, and I have a hard time with it. To me magical realism means that the author presents a magical reality that the reader is supposed to engage with and to some extent commit to. In the novel the magic: little men with hammers, golden horses, flibber gibbers are real only in the mind of the narrator who is obviously mentally ill. The reader knows he believes them to be true, but we don't. However, huddled on his cot with a blanket over his head, he does know things about people that he would have no way of knowing in reality. A main character in the book, The Lady, investigates the lives of some of the men on death row, those who can afford to pay what she indicates is a exorbitant salary. In the cases mentioned in the book, her salary, and that of her aggressive lawyer overlords, is paid by groups opposing the death penalty. She devotes her life to finding mitigating circumstances for the horrific crimes these men have committed. She never questions that the men have committed the crimes. Her job is to find what abuse in their pasts might have turned them into the monsters they and the outer world perceive them to be. And unthinkable abuses she certainly does find. Hope and realistic adjustment to prison life is found and destroyed, and destroyed and destroyed. Then hope or love of life is found again. This is a powerful, beautifully written book that I would recommend to anyone. And it's short to. Well worth the time invested in it.
  • (5/5)
    I will begin by saying that the work of Rene Denfeld has blown me away. This quietly unsettling novel grabbed hold of me from the start and did not let go until the final page was turned.The author does a fantastic job at slowly drawing you in and revealing the plot in layers. This is an uneasy read, with unreliable narrators and as I read, I wondered what was real or imagined.Death row inmate York wants to die, he does not want any help or second chances, he is ready to go. The Lady, an investigator who tries to find information that can save death row inmates, is assigned to his case. As she tries to help York, goes to his hometown and looks into his past, she has dark secrets of her own and finds she has things in common with him. I really wanted to know what York's crime was, and in the end I never found out.A fallen priest is woven into the storyline and his past is a sad one as well. He works in the prison, spending those last moments with the inmates on death row, reading them letters from their loved ones before they go.Arden, another death row inmate, narrates most of the story and he imagines this prison as a magical place. I didn't want him inside my head, I didn't want to see the story through his eyes, yet I was entranced. This is a place where horses live beneath the dungeon and where there is magic all around.As the story unfolds you see the traumatic childhood York suffered and then of course wonder, was he a victim of circumstance? Did the abuse he suffered as a child make him into a killer? Plenty of this storyline was disturbing but the author has a knack for delivering those punches softly. Nothing too detailed or gory, yet just awful enough to make your skin crawl.Denfeld takes us into these prison walls with all the horrors that entails, corruption, abuse, the room itself where death row inmates are given the deadly dosage, yet she does it all with a dreamlike quality. The story is beautifully written.The author herself is a licensed investigator specializing in the same kind of work the character of the Lady does. Which makes me wonder how much of the story is based on real life events?Inevitably, the issue of the death penalty arises here. The character of the Lady has a job to do, try and find information to take these men off death row, yet she knows these are convicted murderers who have ruined lives.All in all, The Enchanted will make my top reads for 2014. This was a powerful and beautifully written novel. I recommend it to fans of magical realism and heart breaking stories.disclaimer:This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any type of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. While I receive free books from publishers and authors, I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I received my copy of The Enchanted for free via AmazonVine.
  • (5/5)
    Horrible but ultimately beautiful.
  • (5/5)
    Horrible but ultimately beautiful.
  • (3/5)
    I think this is a ghost story - both light and dark but no good or evil at play - just pragmatic and mostly dispassionate machinations. The place reminds me of 'Falconer' by John Cheever but populated by ghosts, instead of Huckfinnesque characters. I have not read a darker novel since 'The Cement Garden' - certainly is evocative but I could tell Denfeld was going to make me suffer. It's definitely a book one does not enjoy but tries to wrap their mind around what they just experienced. Definitely not my cup of tea but poetic and damn depressing in every sense.
  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    "This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do." Underneath the ancient stone prison lies a space called the dungeon. Men that go there are never to return until their bodies are carried out after their execution. A man named York is kept their until his final days, which will be soon he has decided. The Lady is assigned to York’s case to search for lost information that will hopefully save him from his demise. The prison is a dark and violent place yet from one prisoners eyes, the narrator, it is transformed into an enchanted place that only he is able to see.The Enchanted was an incredibly unsettling story. It’s about the monsters of society, the horror of humanity and its incredibly visceral and at times a bit too gratuitous for my liking. I understood going into this that it involved a prison and its inmates so I knew it wasn’t going to be a peaceful tale, but I loved the idea of the magical realism aspects with the golden horses that charge through the prison. Except that aspect failed to deliver for me. To me, when you incorporate magical realism into a story it needs to be woven into the story as a whole rather than bits and pieces interspersed sporadically throughout. It just made those bits and pieces feel ill-fitting and out of place.‘I knew that I would never again see the beautiful soft-tufted night birds outside the window, never again sit in the library with the slanting sun through the bars. And that was okay, because I brought those ideas with me, stored in my heart.’ The haunting prose with lines of immense depth was incredibly well-done and was the only redeeming factor of this story. It’s not Stephen King-esque in the least bit but is still memorable. The information on prisons and life as a death-row inmate is incredibly detailed yet that apparently comes from the authors personal experience working as an investigator in death penalty cases. She explores the prison culture of this specific prison with its corrupted guards and all the dreadful things that go on when they turn a blind eye.The story is told for the most part from the point of view of an unnamed (till the end) death row inmate who acts as an omniscient narrator. The role of omniscient narrator was inconceivable though when you consider this is a man relegated to a cell and wouldn’t have the ability for the information he’s divulging.We’re given information about his dark past, of the Lady, of York, of a priest who is employed by the prison, of the Warden and various other characters as well. I felt this left the story with a scattered sort of feel and would have been better off if York was left as the sole main character. The overwhelming amount of information of each individuals past was only spent on what made them flawed and essentially failed to distinguish them. Everybody has their own dark past yet that doesn’t have to define them is what I have surmised to be the moral of this story.This is definitely an impressive first novel that I would have loved to love if not for the disquieting subject matter that I felt was overly and intentionally grim.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)
    Not at all the type of book I normally read but interesting none the less. The author was able to make the characters sympathetic even though they have obviously committed unspeakable crimes. I had never read the style "magical realism" so I was intrigued. This is not for everyone but I did like it.
  • (5/5)
    Many years ago I went to the theater to see a movie called "Dead Man Walking." One of the few movies I have seen that I had not read the book first, I am however, a big Susan Sarandon fan and tried to see all movies in which she took part. Anyway this was an emotionally powerful movie and I knew the other in the theater felt the same way because at the end of the movie there was dead silence, for quite a few seconds and than everyone rose to their feet and clapped. After reading this book I had the same reaction, I put the book down, stopped and thought about it and am still in fact thinking and processing. Actually gave a little chuckle when the famous nun, though nameless, has a brief appearance in this book.This is a hard book to read, a book about death row inmates, just the subject matter tells the reader this is not a happy little story. Nice people usually do not end up on death row. What made that movie and this book so powerful is not that excuses are made for these prisoners, what they did was horrible, but it does allow the reader to see them as people. The main characters in this book are not names, they are the lady, the fallen priest and our narrator who stays unnamed until the end of the book. This is a story of lost men, of all sorts of emotional and in some cases physical pain, and how they did or did not handle this pain. Our narrator uses books at first, "I know that when I read books about love, they are telling the truth. The truth of it winds around my heart and tightens in pain. I try and see it through my eyes, raised to my stone ceiling, and wonder, What is it like to feel love? What is it like to be known?" Later in the story he will use magical thinking, horses snorting and galloping throughout the prison, little men with hammers and other visuals he will use to keep his sanity.The prose is amazing and I believe that though this author has written non fiction this is his first novel. This book will evoke powerful emotions in the reader, whether they hate the book or admire, (can't really use like here, it just doesn't seem appropriate) what this author has managed to put down on a page, they will not read this and feel nothing. This is another book that I believe will haunt me.ARC from publisher.