New Fiction: The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

What a great week for literary novels. First Tessa Hadley and now this arresting, magical debut from Denfeld. I’ve rarely read a novel with a more original, dark, and beguiling point narrative point of view. Early endorsements came from a unique trio—Erin Morgenstern, Donald Ray Pollack and Katherine Dunn. In thinking about these authors’ books, you can imagine that Denfeld has something entirely unique and supernaturally potent up her sleeve.

It’s a hard book to explain so perhaps a bit of background is in order. Denfeld makes her living as a death penalty investigator. In this work she looks into the backgrounds of people on death row with an eye towards seeing how their circumstances might have influenced their crimes. It’s work that must require equal parts dispassionate observation and deep empathy. This novel translates that work into a realm and language that infuses each character’s life with a sort of luminous worth. It’s a remarkable reading experience.

Indie booksellers fell hard for this one and it’s a March Indie Next pick; advance reviews are also strong.

“[An] evocative first novel. . . . Denfeld’s humanizing of the potential for horror that is within all of us and her insistence that the reader see the beauty in the darkest corners of life sizzles through her sharp prose, which both makes us flinch and invites us to imagine.”
— Booklist

“[An] impressive debut. . . . Read this magical book, and prepare to be spellbound.”
— Library Journal (starred review)

[A] striking one-of-a-kind prison novel. The narrator, who is on death row and remains nameless until the book’s end, explains that the prison, although a place where ‘the walls sigh with sadness,’ is enchanted: golden horses ‘run deep under the earth,’ miniature men with miniature hammers hide in the walls, and ‘flibber-gibbets dance while the oven slowly ticks.’ The narrator’s magical perspective—which is paradoxically necessary, perhaps, to preserve what remains of his sanity… Through the novel’s rich, haunting prose, Denfeld, who herself has worked as an investigator in death penalty cases, shines a light on lives led with capital punishment on the schedule. This is a stunning first novel from an already accomplished writer that will leave the reader hoping for more fiction in the author’s future.”
Publishers Weekly

“A death row inmate, a fallen priest and the Lady. These are the characters central to this dark, enthralling, magical story. Locked in a dungeonous cell, the inmate deals with his incarceration by transforming the prison into an enchanted place. The rumblings of the earth become golden horses running below, molten lava flowing from their manes. Little men with hammers live in the walls, and gremlins covet the warm ashes of the newly executed. The Lady works to have the sentences of the condemned commuted to life in prison by investigating their lives, lives with which her own often has much in common. The priest is fallen, lost, and desperately in love with her. These characters live and work in the enchanted place, and I was sorry to leave them behind.”
–Jessie Martin, Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI

The Enchanted wrapped its beautiful and terrible fingers around me from the first page and refused to let go after the last. A wondrous book that finds transcendence in the most unlikely of places, enshrouding horrible things in a gossamer veil of fantasy with a truly unforgettable narrator. So dark yet so exquisite.”
— Erin Morgenstern

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 sub-plots, 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.”
— Katherine Dunn

“Rene Denfeld is a genius. In The Enchanted, she has imagined one of the grimmest settings in the world–a dank and filthy death row in a corrupt prison–and given us one of the most beautiful, heart-rending, and riveting novels I have ever read.”
— Donald Ray Pollock

The Enchanted (9780062285508) by Rene Denfeld. $25.99 hardcover. 3/4/14 on sale.

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