Monday, 20 July 2015

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

The books brought brilliance to my life, and they brought an understanding: Life is a story. Everything that has happened and will happen to me is all part of the story of this enchanted place – all the dreams and visions and understandings that come to me in my dungeon cell. The books helped me see that truth is not in the touch of the stone but in what the stone tells you.
And the stones tell me so much. But if I get some things wrong, then please forgive me. This place is too enchanted to let the story go untold.

Capital punishment is a pretty heavy and loaded topic. People tend to feel very passionate about it, one way or the other; or they can feel completely divided about it. That’s how I feel anyway. It’s never been a topic that I have been able to come up with a definitive opinion about. I can easily see what a drain jails are on the economy. Given the current Conservative climate in Canada; while crime is at an all-time low, the jail population is at an all-time high; and the cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated is significantly more than you or I make in a year. Any of the inmates who would potentially qualify for the death penalty in Canada – and there are not many – cost even more than that. Obviously, you can’t state cost as a main reason for invoking Capital Punishment but once you start talking about other factors the conversation gets a little more complicated. For me – my biggest fear is the chance that the system has gotten it wrong, that the situation is not quite what we thought it was; that maybe the person convicted might be innocent. It’s happened before. I am not sure I could ever take that risk. Laws need to be uniform and consistent and I think the only way that capital punishment would ever work would be a case by case, ridiculously in-depth analysis – and let’s face it, there is no way the justice system is ever going to fork out that kind of money.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with a book called The Enchanted – well, capital punishment is the heart of this story. Yes – this is a magical, beautiful book, all about the horrors of prison and the questions surrounding the death penalty. Our story takes place in the dungeon of an ancient stone prison where those on death row reside waiting for the end. Our narrator is an unnamed man who has been incarcerated, one way or another, for most of his life. He is a voracious reader and uses books to escape the depressing realities of his life; in fact – he has completely re-imagined the world he sees, he has filled his world with golden horses stampeding under the earth and little wee men hammering away inside the stone walls of the prison. He tells us the story of York, a man condemned to die, who actually wants to die; the lady, a woman tasked with saving those on death row, who is determined to save York, whether he wants it or not; and finally, the fallen priest, who honestly hasn’t figured in to the story a whole lot so far.

I’ve been having a hard time reviewing this book, and I am not sure why. I read the first half rather quickly; the narrative flows beautifully, and although the things I am reading are not all that pleasant (actually they are downright unpleasant) – the language and the story are beautiful. I keep using the word beautiful and I know that I should break out the thesaurus and come up with a different word here, but beautiful seems the most appropriate. The most horrible things are happening, but the way they are described, with such a melancholic yet enchanting tone, you almost don’t realize what you are reading – but the message is still seeping through. The Lady – we never learn her name – although being hired for the case, has taken it on like a personal cause. The more she looks into York’s background, the more similarities she sees to her own and she is determined to make him want to live. Be warned – their stories are heartbreaking. More importantly though, their stories bring to light a sad reality about the way the world works and the reasons why people end up where they are.

Our narrator is a mysterious creature. He job is to tell us the story of York, the lady and the fallen priest; although there is no way he could know most of it. Through him we learn of the horrors of prison life, and also the beauty of literature and losing yourself in a book. In between his narrative we glimpse pieces of his life and his philosophies, the horrors of his own story “My soul left me when I was six. It flew away past a flapping curtain over a window. I ran after it, but it never came back. It left me alone on wet stinking mattresses. It left me alone in the choking dark. It took my tongue, my heart, and my mind.”

I am not sure if I want to recommend this book or not, honestly. I am keeping my fingers crossed for a non-devasting ending, but I’m not holding my breath. Some stories are beautiful for the sake of beauty. Some stories carry an important message. I think it takes real genius to combine the two. Rene Denfeld makes you think without you even realizing you're thinking. The prison system, here in Canada and in the States is atrocious, and if we can’t actually make any changes, maybe we can at least become more aware.

“In here, names end. We end. Like periods end sentences. Like the ropes and the bullets and the hot electric nodes and the frying chair and, eventually, the cool milky tubes. Even if we live out our lives in here, we end. Our creation is over.”

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