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Know the West

An unforgettable journey


So Brave, Young, and Handsome
Leif Enger
285 pages, hardcover: $24.
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome, Leif Enger's second novel, takes the reader on an action-packed journey across the West. In 1915, outlaw Glendon Hale, now a boat-builder who has been hiding out in a small Minnesota town for two decades, befriends Monte Becket, a novelist who has spent the last five years failing to complete his second book. Glendon entices Monte into accompanying him to Mexico to find Glendon's wife, whom he abandoned over two decades ago:  "Won't you come along? It's shabby of me, but there's not a thing in it for yourself, or your sweetheart, or your cunning lad. In fact I suppose it will prove the most expensive thing you ever do, and you are bound to live with regrets and have no kind forgiving thoughts for Glendon Hale."

Beginning in Minnesota and making its way along the Missouri River down to South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico, and then to California, So Young, Brave, and Handsome moves along purposefully yet without the sense of desperation that might be expected from men on the lam. Glendon is being pursued: Charles Siringo, a Pinkerton agent who hunted the outlaw for years after he murdered a man, is once again hot on his trail.

Nevertheless, the carefully paced writing allows the reader to experience the urgency of the journey while also conveying a deep sense of place. "At first it (the Rienda River in California) comes down fast and steep and it's a long way between pools ... the gradient lessens, the river levels outs. It slows, gets wide, the hills are broad and tillable. That's your citrus country."

Leif Enger's first novel, the highly praised Peace Like a River, brought the Northern Great Plains vividly to life. In his second, the author roams across an even wider landscape, painting a rich tapestry of the American West. So Brave, Young, and Handsome is a noteworthy tale of comradeship, determination and redemption.