Good Books & Good Talk: So Brave, Young and Handsome

Monday, November 14, 2011
6:15 pm - 7:45 pm


Anyone who has read the book is welcome to the discussion.

Fr Austin writes of this book:

I never find it easy to describe the forthcoming book in the ‚ÄúGood Books and Good Talk‚Äù seminar. Usually I find myself reduced to something along the lines, ‚ÄúTry it, you’ll like it.‚Äù In fact, many people have found they do like the novels of Leif Enger. His first one, almost a decade ago, was a surprise bestseller and award winner. And when we discussed it here at Saint Thomas, we found it led to one of our best conversations. That was Peace Like a River. Enger’s voice is Midwestern, slightly poetic, and deeply respectful; he has an understated appreciation for Christian feeling, and a fearless way of putting his beloved characters into deeply ambiguous danger. His second and latest novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, is ‚Äúa touching, nimble, and rugged story of an aging train robber on a quest to reconcile the claims of love and judgment on his life, and the failed writer who goes with him.‚Äù Here is his opening paragraph:

Not to disappoint you, but my troubles are nothing‚Äînot for an author, at least. Common blots aside, I have none of the usual Big Artillery: I am not penniless, brilliant, or an orphan; have never been to war, suffered starvation or lashed myself to a mast. My health is adequate, my wife steadfast, my son decent and promising. I am not surrounded by people who don’t understand me! In fact most understand me straight-away, for I am and always was an amiable fellow and reliably polite. You, a curious stranger, could walk in this moment; I would offer you coffee and set you at ease. Would we talk pleasantly? Indeed we would, though you’d soon be bored‚Äîhere on Page One I don’t even live in interesting surroundings, such as in a hospital for the insane, or on a tramp steamer, or in Madrid. Later in the proceedings I do promise a tense chase or two and the tang of gunpowder, but here at the outset it’s flat old Minnesota and I am sitting on the porch of my comfortable farmhouse, composing the flaccid middle of my seventh novel in five years.

Of course, none of those novels were finished. But towards the end of this one, after a funeral:

“You are also different,” she said.

I didn’t try to explain that. You can’t explain grace, anyway, especially when it arrives almost despite yourself. I didn’t even ask for it, yet somehow it breached and began to work.

What more might I say? Just this: the novel ends as a man loses everything that his life was aiming at, and at that moment wins ‚Äúthe thing he’d held so precious he wouldn’t approach it in words.‚Äù It’s indirect, it’s sweet and gentle, but there’s gospel steel in So Brave, Young, and Handsome. I hope you will read it and will then come to the discussion.