Rene Denfeld brings her personal experience to the writing of her first novel, The Enchanted. Although I didn’t know this while I read the book, Denfeld’s “Letter to the Reader” tells of her unique connection to prison culture. She works as a death penalty investigator, just as one of her characters does. I’m sharing this in a review because it brought me insight after the fact, although I hope you don’t consider it a spoiler.
Denfeld has serious credibility as a freelance journalist and nonfiction writer as well. The investigation work has been her “day job.” But this book is clearly fiction. In fact, it fits solidly into the magical realism genre, which is one of my favorites. The Enchanted’s story is told by a nameless death row inmate with a quirky imagination. He devours books, and has a unique vision of the old stone prison in which he and the other inmates live.
But this isn’t all fantasy. There’s plenty of reality here, including what happens to fresh-faced young men who’ve committed their first crime. And the secrets of a fallen priest who ministers to the prison’s population. Moments are tough to read, while others are entirely transcendent in their beauty.
The narrator doesn’t tell us much about himself, instead focusing on The Lady, the priest, the warden, the young inmate, and one particular death row inmate. The Lady is a death penalty investigator, adept at ferreting out the secrets in people’s life. Yet all along, she’s keeping many of her own. The warden goes from dark place to dark place, and yet Denfeld gives him genuine humanity. Truthfully, I don’t want to tell you much more than this about the plot. But I will say that Denfeld’s brings vivid life to characters who look death in the eye every single day.
Denfeld weaves the threads of their stories together into a tapestry full of horrible beauty. The balance she finds is delicate, like fine strands of sugar creating a lacy candy. Too little sweetness would make this a deeply disturbing story. Too much sweetness wouldn’t fool anyone. Just the right amount makes this indeed an enchanting read.