I was actually mesmerized by the storytelling of The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. If anything has ever come close to the anti-fairytale, this book is it. Enchanted golden horses that rush the stone dust of an ancient prison where gallows once stood, footing still visible, still naked in the soil. Small men with hammers that whisper and joke in the pitted holes of death row inmates. A priest, a lady, a warden, a white-haired boy, a prison system with a basement of men awaiting their deaths on paper and through the vein. Enchanting, indeed.
The voice behind the telling is a death row inmate that lays witness to the comings and goings of the prison system by hearing through the walls and being quite spellbinding himself. To be honest, his description reminds me of some kin of Gollum, but he is endearing, and clear, and haunting. I read this book in two days because of his pure voice. There is nothing wicked in it, only witness. He seems honest to me, he is able to remark on things so far above his basement stone that go on in the prison.
He produces a moving portrait of a love story within the prison (true romantic love), the inner workings of a warden’s life, a man who in the story seemed a safe house to me as reader, he produces a love story between an investigator and an inmate, not romantic love, but the love shown between two people who can lay bare to similar memories. He is a witness, finally, to the story of the white-haired boy which disgusted me, and worried me, and made me question the justice system for its morality and ethical code. The white-haired boy is, for me, the angel of clipped wings. His injustice is the reader’s injustice.
I couldn’t help to feel that this was an honest story (even if it’s not nonfictional truth), I believed what I was being told, and I believed in the death row inmate doing the telling. Denfeld’s author bio in the back slip of the book says “is an author, journalist, and a death penalty investigator.” This is probably why I found the lady and the lady’s way of dealing with and reading people particularly moving. I was rooting for her, and in her acts of betrayal, and her acts of mercy, it didn’t matter because she was a character that I could reach in and touch. Every character in the story was, actually. I liked York even though for most of the novel he is asking the state to kill him. His story was an angle that I hadn’t thought of before on the death penalty debate.
But don’t get swayed by the ethics and justice system of this book. This is a book of storytelling at its finest. Denfeld is a master with words. There were moments where I read sentences four times just to be able to move them in my mouth again. I scribbled whole paragraphs into my journal (this was a library book after all so I couldn’t just highlight the page, although I plan to buy this book and actually read it again). I would teach this book because of its depth and characterization even though it hits extremely hard topics. But the narrator’s voice. Oh, his voice. And yet… he never speaks. He is a known mute. But his voice on the page is alive and causes empathy that only few books can expose in a reader.
“The soft rocks absorb their voices, but I have learned how to listen. I pick their words off the moss and stone” (3).
Only a character with a natural quarry of emotion could listen as well as the narrator. He hears the storms that rage in the other characters. He expresses the pure pockets of each of them when they are unable, or resigned to who they have been perceived as on the outside.
“What lives inside the coils inside people? Why did God create us with so many winding, dark puzzles?” (17).
And he’s a reader. He’s one of us, book nerds. A death row wanderer. A person who knows the difference between lonely and alone. A man who finds solace in the small indent of space between each line of The White Dawn. A person who isn’t sure where their childhood starts and where the story of the book he’s in the middle of ends. Whatever we’re made of, he and I are the same. Which is INSANE, right? He’s a death row inmate. But he knows books like I know the veins in the left arm I use to prop my head up at night under a cover to read. He imagines the same spot of sunlight, the same dust motes as I do when I sit in a dying field in the fall and turn each crisp page.
“I would think for hours how strange it was that some parts of words are silent, just like some parts of our lives. Did the people who wrote the dictionaries decide to mirror language to our lives, or did just happen that way?” (19).
This creature in this hole. This animal in a cage. This man in a book. I adored him, and at the end almost couldn’t reconcile his ultimate death by medicine. Because somewhere in those same veins that death travels was a man that just told me the most glorious story about a group of people trying to polish each of their stones to give away.
And there he is, narrator #1487587 keeping his stone just under the fold of skin that’s only seen shadows for any number of years.