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The Enchanted

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2014)
This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it, but I do.

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honour and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

256 pages, Kindle Edition

First published March 4, 2014

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About the author

Rene Denfeld

12 books2,235 followers
Rene Denfeld is the bestselling author of THE CHILD FINDER, THE ENCHANTED, THE BUTTERFLY GIRL, which Margaret Atwood called "a heartbreaking, finger-gnawing, yet ultimately hopeful novel." Her next novel is SLEEPING GIANTS will be be published March 2024 by Harper.

"Rene Denfeld is one of the handful of living writers I most admire, and Sleeping Giants may be her masterpiece. Haunting, frightening and moving in equal measure, her new novel is a sublime page turner, evoking beauty and terror in the same moment. I read it in an afternoon, enthralled, and am still under its spell."

— Elizabeth Hand, author of A Haunting on the Hill and Generation Loss.

Rene's poetic fiction has won numerous awards including the French Prix, an ALA Medal for Excellence and an IMPAC listing. Rene works as a licensed investigator, including exonerating innocents from prison and helping rape trafficking victims. Rene has also been a foster parent for over 25 years, and is the happy mother to several children adopted from foster care. In 2017 she was awarded the Break The Silence Award for her advocacy work, and the New York Times named her hero of the year.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
February 23, 2023
What matters in prison is not who you are but what you want to become. This is the place of true imagination.
Rene Denfeld, the author of The Enchanted, has the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet. She has written a novel about identity, understanding, the roots of crime, the reality of prison life, the possibility for redemption, and the ability of people to use imagination to rise beyond the purely material to the transcendent.

There are three primary and several very strongly written secondary characters whose stories are interwoven. In the death row of a stone prison somewhere in America, a nameless inmate, entombed in a lightless dungeon, has constructed a fantastical appreciation for the world he inhabits, bringing a glorious light into his Stygian darkness.
The most wonderful enchanted things happen here—the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow.
In reading, he has the freedom his external circumstances preclude. And he interprets his surroundings through a magical lens. The rumblings of tectonic activity become golden horses racing underground. He sees small men with hammers in the walls (a particularly Lovecraftian notion) and flibber-gibbets, beings who feed on the warmth of death itself. He visualizes his very sweat rising to join the atmosphere and raining down on China. He is also able to perceive feelings and needs in others, observing from his isolation, and offering a bit of narrator omniscience. That he is able to find enchantment in this darkest of situations is breathtaking. I was reminded, in a way, of Tolkien’s Gollum, the battle between the darkness and the light within a single being. But enchantment is not reserved for the inmate alone.

Rene Denfeld

An investigator, known only as The Lady, is working on the case of a prisoner named York. After being on death row for twelve years, York had decided to abstain from any further appeals. The Lady had been hired by York’s attorneys to look into his case. We follow her as she unearths a horrific past that helps explain how York came to be where and who he is. She has a history of her own that informs her ability to relate to her clients. Once upon a time she needed a redoubt of her own.
What did she think about during those endless hours in the laurel hedge? As a child, she made an imaginary world so real that she could feel and taste it today. Sometimes she would imagine that she and her mom lived on a magical island where the trees dripped fruit. Other times they traveled all over the world, just the two of them, like the best of buddies. In all the stories her mom was whole and she was safe. When she left the laurel hedge, she would bend the thick green leaves back, to hide where she had been. And when she came back the next day, crawling with a sandwich she had made of stale bread with the mold cut off, and hardened peanut butter from the jar, the magic would be waiting for her.
She has enchantment in her adult life as well, while pursuing her investigation, as she is dazzled by some of the natural beauty she encounters.

A fallen priest tends to the spiritual needs of the inmates, but he guards a secret that he desperately needs to confess. While he offers what comfort he can to the inmates, who can really see him? Who can forgive him?

Much of this novel is about seeing and being seen, of crime, punishment and forgiveness. The Lady’s role is to see the prisoners, see their history, see what lies beneath the awful exterior. She is respected and admired, but not much seen herself. Many of the inmates and guards get by precisely because they succeed in remaining unseen. Prison is a dangerous place in which to be seen. Those who see might use that vision for dark purposes.

Denfeld lifts a wet rock to reveal the maggot-ridden structure of unofficial prison governance, the corruption and cruelty that permeates this world, even with a fair warden nominally in charge. Corrupt guards ally with brutish alpha inmates for their mutual gain. There is considerable detail about prison life, including such things as why metal food trays are used instead of plastic, how the bodies of the deceased are handled, what events are considered disruptive and what are considered ameliorative, and even some history of the prison, including reasons for elements of its design. She also looks through the eyes of the warden and the guards, offering keen insight.

The story lines include learning what The Lady discovers as she looks into York’s past, following the travails of a new, young, white-haired prisoner, seeing how corruption in the prison operates, and accumulating bits of the nameless prisoner’s story.

There are indeed monsters inside the stone walls, as there are monsters without, both drawn to the despoiling of innocence and beauty. But in this pit of ultimate despair, where all hope is lost, there is magic of another sort. Life may be harsh and death may be near, but welcoming the golden subterranean steeds, attending to the little men with hammers, imagining elements of one’s self traversing the planet, traveling along with the characters in a book, seeing, really seeing others, can lift one beyond the cares of the physical world.

Can there be redemption for the horrific crimes these condemned men have committed? Should they die for their crimes, whether they want to or not? Might it be a harsher punishment, even crueler, to keep them alive?

Denfeld has a considerable history. She is an investigator for death-row inmates, and thus the model for The Lady. Her knowledge of the prison world is well applied here. She wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine on the impact on children of being raised by cognitively impaired parents, a subject that is significant in the story. In addition, her 2007 book, All God’s Children informs her knowledge of the often violent world of street families, young criminals in particular. She is also an amateur boxer. I would not mess with her.

This is simply one of the most moving books I have ever read. Not only is the material heart-breaking, but the language Denfeld uses in her descriptions, the gentle magic of the imagination with which she imbues some of her characters is poetic and stunning.
I hear them, the fallen priest and the lady. Their footsteps sound like the soft hush of rain over the stone floors. They have been talking, low and soft, their voices sliding like a river current that stops outside my cell. When I hear them talk, I think of rain and water and crystal-clear rivers, and when I hear them pause, it is like a cascade of water over falls.
While there is enough darkness in The Enchanted to fill a good-size dungeon, it is the moments of light, the beauty of language and imagination, and the triumph of spirit that will cast a spell over you that will last until you shuffle off this mortal coil.

----------Hardcover - 3/4/2014
----------Trade paperback - 3/4/2015

This review was originally posted November 4, 2013

=============================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s personal, Twitter, and Facebook pages

-----with Jane Eaton Hamilton
-----Denfeld and author Stephanie Feldman talk with each other about genre - Writing to genre stinks: Two debut novelists on the hard line between fantasy and realism — and why it doesn’t make sense - on Salon.com

Items of interest
-----2/11/2015 - The long list was announced today for The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and NonFiction and The Enchanted was on it.
-----August 11, 2017 - NY Times - GR friend Andrea clued me in to this very moving piece by Denfeld on adopting her own kids, another form of the heroism that is her life - Four Castaways Make a Family
-----October 2, 2019 - Crimereads.com - Denfeld’s close call - MUST READ!!! - The Green River Killer and Me

Other Denfeld books I have read and reviewed
-----2019 - The Butterfly Girl (Naomi Cottle #2)
-----2017 - The Child Finder (Naomi Cottle #1)
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
July 1, 2018
this is a grim and haunting story that takes place in a crumbling, but still occupied, prison. the narrative is shot through with threads of magical realism which ordinarily would be employed as contrast to lessen the horror of the surroundings, but here these flourishes frequently intensify the bleakness.

i'm going to refrain from talking about the book's overall message because death penalty stuff always brings out the cranks on both sides of the issue, and ain't nobody got time for that. but i will say that i fully support the death penalty when it comes to bedbugs, because their recidivism rate is somehow more than 100% and also they are assholes.

instead i will focus on the story and the writing, because it's a pretty impressive debut novel from someone who'd only written nonfiction before this. the narrator is an unnamed-until-the-end prisoner in solitary confinement in the underground death row section of the prison. he does not speak, but he escapes his surroundings through books and witnesses the enchantment running through the prison: golden horses galloping, tiny men with hammers in the walls, and the creepy flibber-gibbets. the less said about them, the better. but he sees so much more - well beyond the confines of his bars, and he serves as an omniscient narrator who tells the stories of the other characters: "the lady," "the priest," "the warden," and york, a fellow prisoner whose death date is fast approaching.

this structure makes it hard to say what's real and what's imagined. i assume we are meant to sort of "forget" that this prisoner would have no access to witnessing the scenes he relates, much less have access to the other characters' thoughts, but it's hard to ignore sometimes. as much as i love an unreliable narrator, passages like this one, where he admits to a blurring between reality and fantasy, are almost begging you to doubt what happens outside of the bars:

Sometimes, when reading a book, I would think of the other people who might have touched it before it was donated. A nice woman who lay down with her baby for a nap might have held the book I was reading. I could see her, lying in a sundress on faded rose-printed cotton sheets, the book splashed open in the sunlight. A little of that sun could have soaked into the pages I was touching.

After a time, it seemed that the world inside the books became my world. So when I thought of my childhood, it was dandelion wine and ice cream on a summer porch, like Ray Bradbury, and catching catfish with Huck Finn. My own memories receded and the book memories became the real memories, far more than the outside, far more even than in here.

but it doesn't take away from the story much, it's just a little niggle that sticks in your brain. or my brain, anyway. i have a sticky brain.

the story itself is much larger than you'd expect from such a short book. "the lady" is a death penalty investigator assigned to york's case, trying to save him from his impending death, which death york emphatically does not want saving from. through her inquiries and research, her own past is also revealed, much of it troublingly similar to york's. "the priest" is actually a defrocked priest, whose loneliness calls out to the lady's own, and they begin a friendship within the walls of the prison that provides a tentative beauty in all the misery. along with the warden, these two characters show that even people who are "free" have bars around them - a kind of self-imposed isolation resulting from guilt, fear, illness, and the weight of the past.

there are large horrors to be found here; stories of rape and brutality and the white-haired boy, but the ones that really stuck in me were the smaller-scale events: what striker did to the book, the line Troy had a party, the forgotten inmate, the soapy gray dishwater surrounding the food… although that's a lie - the white-haired boy will also stick in my head for a long, long time. but there are other large and more central-to-the-story horrors with less staying power in my craw, probably because they were more familiar. which is in itself a horrifying statement.

denfeld has written a quiet but powerful story here, drawing on her own experiences as a death penalty investigator. and while i didn't always agree with it, and while i thought the magical realism elements didn't always work or contribute, this is still a gorgeously-written piece of fiction, with a lot to chew on after it ends.

here's a passage that i think showcases the gloomy beauty of her prose:

The important part is the window on the far wall. If the inmates strain hard, they can see the sky through that window. The clouds might be fluffy and white one day, traced with pink and mauve the next, or lit on fire from a sunset.

The window is the reason the death row inmates go to the visiting room to see their lawyers and investigators. The lawyers think their clients want to see them. No, they want to see the window. When the visit ends and they are led in chains back to the dungeon underground, where they spend their days trapped in a six-by-nine cell with no window and no fresh air, a flat cot and open toilet with an endless circle of dark brown in the bowl and a flickering lightbulb in a metal cage, they can remember that scrap of sky. They might go months down in the dungeon between visits, even years. But on those rare days when they are summoned to the visiting room, they know they will see the sky.

When they return to the dungeon, they can tell the others. "It was reddish today, and the clouds were the color of plums," they might say. Or "I saw a bird - so pretty." No one will dispute them. There are some things people lie about in here - okay, people lie about most things in here. But there is one thing on death row that no one lies about, and that is what they saw in those scraps of sky.

i await her second novel...

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,542 followers
May 5, 2022
I am 9 reviews behind schedule, arghh. I realized Today that 2 months have passed since I read this novel and promised to return with a review. Life got in the way but I finally have the time to write a few words. The downside to taking too much time to write a review is that my memory of the feelings I had for this novel started to fade so I will be downgrading my rating a bit. It seems I‘ve been overexcited right after I finished.

The novel is about an old maximum-security death row prison, “an Enchanted place” in the eyes of one of the main characters. The novel shifts between two POV’s, an unnamed mute inmate bound for the electric chair for a gruesome crime and an investigator whose job is to save convicts from death. Since the author is an investigator as a side job, the novel seems very well researched and she manages to give the reader an intimate account of the life behind bars waiting to die but. It also delves into the psychology of the people who are dedicating their time to save the “monsters” the society wants to get rid of.

“Inside, the lies you tell become the person you become. On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their actual size. In here, people grow into their shadows.”

The author blends beautiful poetic writing with realism and with a stroke of magic. The result is a touching and atmospheric novel about the roots of crime, a novel about darkness and light. I could not understand how she could write such an “Enchanted” book about such a terrible subject.

"When you don’t have a soul, the ideas inside you become terrible things. They grow unchecked, like malignant monsters. You cry in the night because you know the ideas are wrong—you know because people have told you that—and yet none of it does any good. The ideas are free to grow. There is no soul inside you to stop them.”
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews735 followers
November 10, 2019
Been thinking about this book a lot since I read it. Truly exceptional. And definitely in my top ten ever....

This is truly an enchanted book, a wondrous story. I was thinking yesterday when I finished it that it compared with The Road, which made a big impact on me. That this is without a doubt one of the best books I ever read.
It's a sad, gruesome dark story but also, weirdly enough, one of hope and love. And, beautifully written, a poetic style, which is strangly contrasting with the topic of the story: death row. The story follows a mute inmate on death row who follows and observes developments on death row, which is deep down in the dungeons of the prison building. It's about York, an inmate on death row who wants to die; the lady, who tries to investigate York's case to get him off the death sentence; about a fallen priest in the prison. The lady and the fallen priest fall in love but don't know how to handle it... The boy with the white hair who is abused in prison, and one day decides to take fate in his own hands... The honest and troubled warden, whose wife is dying of cancer...All people with dark happenings in their lives. The mute inmate hears little men in the walls...And then the horses, the golden horses that run and run and run and make a real stampede in the prison at crucial moments. Fantasy or reality?
Well, I cried at the end... like when I finished the Road.
And the book, this is why I always want to read real books. A grainy book, the golden horses lay on top of the print of the cover, the bars are stamped into the book, the pages unevenly cut.. a real live, beautiful book. It will get a top spot on my shelves.

This is what the inside flap of the book says: 'The enchanted is a magical novel about redemption, the poetry that can exist within the unfathomable, and the human capacity to transcend and survive even the most nightmarish reality. Beautiful and unexpected, this is a memorable story.'

Rene Denfeld is an author, journalist and death penalty investigator, that all makes sense.

An extraordinary book. Highly, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
May 31, 2014
“Inside, the lies you tell become the person you become. On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their actual size. In here, people grow into their shadows.”

This is a book about monsters. And the stories they have to tell.

Set on death row in a maximum security prison, this book is narrated by a man whose name and crimes we are not told. Through him, we see the lives of men inside the prison - those who long for death, those who would do anything to escape it, those who came to prison for petty crimes and ended up paying far more than their crimes were worth. We also see the lives of others - a priest who wonders about redemption, prison guards who believe that some men deserve to die, and a lady who wants to save them all even though she isn't always sure why.

The Enchanted is about humanity at its worst, at its most monstrous. It's a gritty, highly disturbing read that contains all manner of sexual abuse, violence and drug use. But it is also a beautifully-written debut novel that will haunt me for a long time. I thought it managed to pack many experiences into a short amount of pages without seeming over-burdened by them, introducing many different characters and developing them all into interesting - albeit often despicable - human beings.

I admit that the death penalty is an area that I like to steer my mind away from and I'm glad I live in a country where it isn't up for much debate. My initial instinct is always to see it as a bad thing, to decry it as being a violation of something fundamental... but perhaps I am a hypocrite, because I'm certain I wouldn't feel so forgiving if the victim was someone I loved. Then again, what if the culprit was? I don't even know. Most people, when asked, would say they'd go back and kill Hitler if they had the chance, so I guess nearly all (if not all) of us are willing to cross the line sometimes. We all just define the line differently.

But, despite what I initially wondered might be the case, this isn't a book about pushing a message. Or that's not what I took from it. I don't think this is about whether or not the death penalty should be used or whether or not people deserve to die, it is far more complex than that. If there is any message here, it's that everyone - even monsters - has a story.

"A woman who let men come and go through her door for years, to molest her baby. Not out of evil but for a reason that's harder to accept: she didn't know better."

The ending surprised me and has continued to leave me feeling hollow and haunted - in a good way, I might add. I understand that this won't be a book for everyone and I don't want to play down some of the vivid descriptions of vile acts and upsetting scenes, but if you think you can stomach it, I highly recommend this book. It was a simultaneously beautiful and ugly story, based on the author's own experiences as an investigator on death row, and I really hope Denfield writes more in the future.

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Profile Image for Debbie.
455 reviews2,896 followers
September 29, 2017
Wild horses galloping underground. Really? I will hate this. “But it’s not fantasy,” my friend insists. I smile fakely and say without hesitation (like we all do when we know damn well it’s not up our alley), “Sounds good, but I have a bunch of other books I have to read first.” All along I’m thinking, is she crazy? I hate fantasy! And I hate magical realism! No way in hell will I read this. Then she actually buys me the book. Oh shit, how can I get out of it now? I vow to give it a try, reminding myself that it’s perfectly okay to stop reading if I hate it.

Fuck. First page, I’m a goner.

See for yourself. Here’s how it begins:

This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.

I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway. I see the doorways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clear air. I see the chamber where the cloudy medical vines snake across the floor, empty and waiting for the warden’s finger to press the red buttons.

This is a dark book, a brilliant book, mostly narrated by a madman on death row. The wild horses are merely running around in his imagination. This is, of course, totally acceptable to me, lol. They are the madman’s fantasies; the author isn’t feeding me a line that there are real wild horses underground. Pshew. I am now a ready and willing captive.

The language is lyrical, just beauteous, which instantly draws me in but instantly worries me too. I don’t want to commit to a long prose poem, I need a plot. I needn’t have worried, though, because the plot is alive and riveting. There’s some violence (not gory) and lots of sadness. Saying this book is dark is an understatement. I’ve never thought of myself as loving dark books (I don’t do horror books; don’t go in for lots of violence), so it’s odd I’ve read of slew of dark books lately and they’ve all been favorites.

I liked the totally mad inmate telling the story. He’s wise and sad and out there, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him. A woman (simply called “the lady”) investigates the life of an inmate who is about to be executed. There are evil inmates, an innocent inmate, a fallen priest, a bad guard, and a good warden. You feel their essence; the author gets kudos for being able to create such vivid and sympathetic characters in such a short book.

The bleak descriptions of the prison drew me in. And being inside the complicated, brilliant, but sick head of the narrator as he astutely and emotionally observes the prison and the people within it, is chilling. He hears horses galloping underground and little men hammering in the walls, and you understand his reality. Hell, I started LIKING the invisible horses and the men with hammers. I felt like I was in on a secret, like the narrator was whispering truths in my ear, and no one else could hear.

Other than one minor point-of-view problem, where the narrator’s voice is interrupted by the inner thoughts of someone else, I have no complaints. I excuse that little glitch because I love the book so much.

There is one other little issue that seems funny, only because I ran into the same exact problem in a book I just read. I just have to add it as a spoiler.

If, like me, you don’t want to touch fantasy with a ten-foot pole, think twice on this one. My friend (whom I should have trusted all along) was right—this isn’t fantasy. It IS magical realism, but here I'm all in. I’m so glad she kept pushing this book in my face. And who doesn’t want to hear the fantasies of a mentally ill man on death row? Really.

I didn’t want to put this book down, yet I didn’t want it to end either. Weird and brilliant. 5 stars all the way, baby.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,355 followers
July 14, 2018
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

The Enchanted is one hell of a debut. Jarring, pithy, and unsettling. The story, conveyed through the eyes of a man on death row, unveils the blurred lines between guilt and innocence. He presents a world both wondrous and filled with nightmares, leading us by the hand to a gut-punch of a conclusion.
He can chat with a man like York, he can even show kindness to a man like Arden, but he knows in his heart that they deserve to die. Such men are like diseased dogs or demented animals. You can bemoan what made them killers, but once they are, the best thing is to put them down with mercy.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
January 16, 2016
Many years ago I went to the theater to see a movie called "Dead Man Walking." One of the few movies I have seen that I had not read the book first, I am however, a big Susan Sarandon fan and tried to see all movies in which she took part. Anyway this was an emotionally powerful movie and I knew the other in the theater felt the same way because at the end of the movie there was dead silence, for quite a few seconds and than everyone rose to their feet and clapped. After reading this book I had the same reaction, I put the book down, stopped and thought about it and am still in fact thinking and processing. Actually gave a little chuckle when the famous nun, though nameless, has a brief appearance in this book.

This is a hard book to read, a book about death row inmates, just the subject matter tells the reader this is not a happy little story. Nice people usually do not end up on death row. What made that movie and this book so powerful is not that excuses are made for these prisoners, what they did was horrible, but it does allow the reader to see them as people. The main characters in this book are not names, they are the lady, the fallen priest and our narrator who stays unnamed until the end of the book.

This is a story of lost men, of all sorts of emotional and in some cases physical pain, and how they did or did not handle this pain. Our narrator uses books at first, "I know that when I read books about love, they are telling the truth. The truth of it winds around my heart and tightens in pain. I try and see it through my eyes, raised to my stone ceiling, and wonder, What is it like to feel love? What is it like to be known?" Later in the story he will use magical thinking, horses snorting and galloping throughout the prison, little men with hammers and other visuals he will use to keep his sanity.

The prose is amazing and I believe that though this author has written non fiction this is her first novel. This book will evoke powerful emotions in the reader, whether they hate the book or admire, (can't really use like here, it just doesn't seem appropriate) what this author has managed to put down on a page, they will not read this and feel nothing. This is another book that I believe will haunt me.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Karen.
593 reviews1,197 followers
September 17, 2017
Beautifully written book about a prison, primarily the death row block and a lady that investigates their cases to try to get them off death row.
There was love in these pages too, you end up caring about all of these characters, even the most horrific, as some of their background stories come to life.
This was an enchanting and atmospheric read.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews605 followers
September 29, 2015
Thank You to the many friends on Goodreads who read this book before me....
especially to 'Doug'. When I read his review yesterday... I said..."That's it, enough already". I picked up the paperback copy which I own - and started reading!
It's MORE than what I expected ... IT REALLY IS *THAT SPECIAL*!!!!!!

When a mute nameless inmate first arrived at the prison ....( we learn he is on death row), he was pretty much illiterate ....but the library became his sanctuary.
"I loved the ways the precious stories took shape but always had room to be ready again. I became fascinated with how writers did that. How do they make a story feel so complete and yet so open-minded? It was like painting a picture that changed each time you look at it."

The book "The White Dawn", was comforting to him ... which he read over and over.
When he first started reading, he didn't know how to sound out many of the words:
"Sioux, paisley, ruche, Obsolete, rubric, crux. How do you say those words? How do they sound when others say them? Are they as pretty as a sound inside my head?"
He tried endlessly to say the word 'Sioux' ...He was still not sure how it sounds. "Is the X silent?"
In the end he decided it really didn't matter. Books brought brilliance to his life. They brought understanding. "Life is a story".
"Everything that is 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."

Our nameless-first-person narrator has a vivid imagination - lots of magical activity going on inside his head. ( creative descriptions of sounds -miniature men with tiny hammers in the walls- horses gallop free, etc.). Other inmates are: York, Arden, Conroy, Risk, white hair boy, the warden, the Priest, and *The Lady*.
*The Lady*, is the death penalty investigator. Much of the story is told from her point of view in third person narrative. Early on in this story, I couldn't help but wonder what might be her
inspiration for this job she has chosen. Then...we see her remembering back to her childhood ... and I began to understand her amazing compassion for the inmates.
"What did she think about during those endless hours in the laurel hedge?
As a child she made an imaginary World so real that she could feel and taste it today. Sometimes she would imagine that she and her mom lived on a magical island where the trees dripped fruit. Other times they traveled all over the world, just the two of them, like the best of buddies. In all the stories, her mom was whole and she was safe. When she left the laurel hedge, she would send the thick green leaves back, to hide where she had been. And when she came back the next day, crawling with the sandwich she had made of stale bread with the mold
cut off and harden peanut butter from the jar, and magic world would be waiting for her."

The imagery and prose is lustrous. Yet at the same time - the author has us take a deep look
inside the walls of prison life. The place is old and filthy. We see both sides of the coin: The horrific crimes that inmates have committed...and the indignity, humiliation, and abuse the authorities afflict on them.

Parts of this book was really agonizing to read.
Yet it was absolutely beautiful to see how the author, Rene Denfeld, gave these men on death row a sense of humanity.

"The entire enchanted place sighs with sadness".

Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,716 followers
August 2, 2021
“For us, time doesn’t exist. The measurements of life – birth, death, loss, marriage, love, lust, happiness – have no meaning in this dungeon. Time passes here, but it doesn’t count. I could have a clock, but what would the dial tell me? Nothing. When time no longer exists, you don’t care about getting up, you don’t think about birthdays, you don’t think back to people you lost. You float free in the universe, untethered to anyone or anything. Your heart is empty, and because your heart is empty, you have no time. You have no place in the universe. At least I used to think this way. Only listening to the lady and the priest has made me feel a little different. I think more about time now. Not for me but for the lady.”

So says the narrator of this very powerful and intense book set in one of the darkest of places – the death row of an antiquated stone prison. Told through the first-person “voice” of a condemned man who has committed heinous and indescribable crimes, The Enchanted is simultaneously heartrending, hopeful and beautiful. As one would expect, the subject matter is often unsettling; however, the author does not go over the top with extreme and graphic images. Denfeld conveys to the reader the very real and ugly side to lives filled with physical, sexual, and mental abuse, the consequences of such horrors, and ultimately the atrocities of prison life itself; but she does so in an unusually quiet manner.

The Lady, unnamed in this novel, is an attorney-hired investigator tasked with searching for information that could save the lives of death row inmates once their execution dates have been set. Sometimes successful and occasionally not, the Lady is confronted with a most difficult and rare case – that of York, who does not wish to be saved from death. Through her research, the Lady again confronts the misery of her own past which is not so different from that of York’s. This gives the Lady a unique perspective and perhaps an additional passion to help York and men like him. Her inclination to truly listen helps York open up and speak to her. “The words tumble out as rough as rocks, but they are soon worn smooth, and more and more he hears himself talking – blessed surcease, a person just to listen to me – and the vowels round and the consonants grow into planets that become the universe that expands in the light in her dark eyes. She hears me, he thinks wildly – she hears me.”

Throughout the novel, the reader also feels the raw pain of other damaged individuals such as the fallen priest in need of love and forgiveness, the white-haired boy who is a victim of the system and a recipient of the awful abuse within the prison walls, and the warden tormented by the anguish of his wife’s illness and impending death. And then, of course, we are always brought back to the narrator and his own inner turmoil. Described as a monster as a result of his crimes, the narrator manages the confusion and heartache of his past and the fears of everyday prison life by reading books and creating an imaginative world full of “enchantment”, running horses with “gold-flecked nostrils and bronzed skin”, tiny men with hammers within the walls, and other such fantasies. The reader in me could not help but delight in and identify with his love for books. “After a time, it seemed that the world inside the books became my world. So when I thought of my childhood, it was dandelion wine and ice cream on a summer porch, like Ray Bradbury, and catching catfish with Huck Finn. My own memories receded and the book memories became the real memories, far more than the outside, far more even than in here.” In a sense, books were his salvation. But, I think too, that the Lady was his salvation as well. Through his eyes we see her develop a relationship with the fallen priest, we see her deal with her own demons and nightmares of her past, and like the narrator, we gain a sense of hope that one can rise above the unthinkable miseries of a damaging childhood. “The lady is like me in many ways. Serpents crawl inside her. She is deathly afraid that others will see them. She is afraid, and yet she wants the priest to see inside her and accept the monsters that wrap around the secret, pure part of her – the part she managed to save, miraculously, that so many of us have lost. She knows the monsters are there and yet wants to be seen. Her courage frightens and amazes me. It makes me hopeful for her. It makes me crave happiness for her. Is that what you call love? Is that what you call hope?”

Thought-provoking, simply but hauntingly beautiful, and with a perfect ending, The Enchanted is one you should not miss. I highly recommend this book that gets 4.5 stars from me.
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
December 8, 2021
Call me crazy, but when I see golden horses in bars with a title like this, I think "carousel."

When I get "magical realism that takes place on the death row of a prison, narrated by an inmate who can see the fantastical creatures within its walls, describing the relationship between an investigator and a priest, a warden and a convict, a man on death row who is ready to die and the people who have let him go already," I am surprised, yes.

But very, very pleasantly surprised.

I expected a little Morgenstern-esque fantasy setting action, and instead I received a reminder of our shared humanity, of the good where you least expect it, an insistence that we are all people, that we deserve grace and dignity, that even when we fail to show it we have worthiness and morality within us.

What a thing.

Bottom line: My best surprise read of the year.


this is a stunner (in that i was surprised by it because it was not what i expected, and in every other way).

review to come / 4 stars


do you ever accidentally go into a book blind?

in other words, turns out i had no idea what this book was about.

clear ur shit prompt 3: a book you were recommended
follow my progress here


everyone has a different soulmate. for example, mine is magical realism
Profile Image for Justin.
284 reviews2,301 followers
September 1, 2015
This book was a perfect mix of everything I love.

First, I love prison. Wait, let me start over...

First, I love stories about institutions like this. Two of my favorite movies are "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Shawshank Redemption". I also toured Alcatraz while in San Francisco last year. I'm not really sure what that says about me, but there is probably some deeper psychological meaning in there somewhere. Anyway, I love these types of stories. This felt so real, and I loved how it bounced around between different stories to focus on various characters.

Second, I love fantasy books so it was really cool to see some fantasy elements mixed into the story. All of the mystical stuff the narrator described added a unique layer to the story. It's all about death row and the toll it takes on the inmates and staff, but there were times when it felt like Harry Potter when golden horses or small men with hammers came onto the scene.

And, finally, this story was the perfect length. It's just over 200 pages, and it never wastes time. Every sentence was important. There weren't pages of character development or paragraph after paragraph about the setting of each scene. It felt like The Handmaid's Tale or Bird Box since it had that minimal, bleak tone throughout the story.

And, finally (for real this time), I loved the ending. I haven't been able to say that recently so it feels good to finally be able to enjoy how a book wrapped up. Parts of the ending felt like Paul Thomas Anderson co-wrote the book, and I'm honestly not completely sure I "get" everything I should have from the ending, but I loved it.

I'm often like a cranky old man and find everything that's wrong with a book so I can complain about it in my review. This time I don't have anything to complain about. This book is awesome.

It's awesome.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews403 followers
April 1, 2015
What an extraordinary novel. Actually, I've never read anything like it. It has a fantastical feel to it, yet it is not fantasy as a genre. I'm finding it hard to relate a story that felt as if I was in an enchanted place, and yet is a story of prison, death, death row, a woman who comes to exchange death for life terms, and a priest who is disgraced. This prison is no ordinary prison though, it was built long, long ago, and has the feel of an ancient castle.

The first sentence begins, "This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it, but I do." This is the voice of our narrator. He is a man on death row himself, one we rarely catch scant glimpses of. We know he is somewhat deformed, either through childhood abuse, or prison life itself. But it is he, the "knower" of this place, and he sees, and feels it all.

The exquisite writing of Rene Denfeld is like no other. To provide a taste from the first paragraph, and a clearer picture of our narrator, she writes, "I see the chamber where the cloudy medical vines snake across the floor, empty and waiting for the warden's finger to press the red button...urns of the dead spill ashes outside to feed the soil under the grasses, which wave to the sky...I see the golden horses as they run deep under the earth, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs. I see where the small men hide with their tiny hammers, and how the fibber-giblets dance while the oven slowly ticks."

Denfeld can turn a striking phrase into a chilling experience. But, this novel is not filled with misery. It questions the ultimate meaning of life and death. What is the incessant pull towards life, or even death? Who really "sees" us in this desert we call life? What can truly be forgiven? This book left me with many essential questions.

To be mesmerized by a novel is quite a feat, and Rene Denfeld has done that for me with perfection.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,326 reviews2,145 followers
September 13, 2017
Like many people I had been putting off reading this book largely because I don't really go for depressing literature and what could be more depressing than a story set on Death Row. Well I was so, so wrong. This is an amazing book, beautifully written and not a bit depressing even though it is often sad. If that sounds like a contradiction then read it for yourself and you will understand.
The narrator is an inmate awaiting his execution and his name and his crime are kept as a mystery until the end of the book. Other main characters also do not have names and include some very sympathetic people such as the Lady and the Warden, both of whom I liked very much. I loved the golden horses and the little men in the walls which turned out to be in the narrator's mind but were delightful anyway. In fact I loved the whole thing. An amazing book which grabbed me on page one and didn't let me go until the very last word.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,514 reviews29.5k followers
January 4, 2016
This book was not at all what I expected, and it utterly blew me away.

"This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it but I do."

When you think enchanted places, the last thing that comes to mind is an ancient prison, but that is where this beautiful book takes place. It is narrated by a prisoner on death row, where the prisoners are kept in an underground dungeon of sorts. The narrator cannot speak, but he sees and envisions incredible things—golden horses who run hard beneath the prison following every execution, and tiny men that hammer away inside the prison's stone walls, carrying the gossip, threats, and laments from cell to cell.

The narrator isn't upset that his death is imminent. He lives for the moments when the prison trusties bring him books, and he lives for the moments when his other senses come alive in the prison—his ability to hear the magical sounds and smell the scents coming from outside the prison walls.

"I have been inside one locked room or another since I was nine. I am accustomed to it, buried inside rooms that are buried inside other rooms that are buried inside electric razor fences. The walls that might make others feel like they are suffocating have become my lungs."

In the midst of the corruption that runs through the prison behind the kindly warden's back (kindly despite his role in walking men to their executions), two people work to change the tenor of the environment—a fallen priest, whose role is to counsel men waiting for death, and a woman, known as the Lady, who is hired as an investigator to try and get some of the prisoners' death sentences overturned. When she begins looking into the case of an inmate who doesn't want her help and wants to die, she uncovers secrets which hit a little too close to home for her.

This is such a compelling story; it's as much about the goings-on inside a prison and the musings of a man condemned to death as it is about the lives of those who work within the system, and how they are able to keep moving forward day to day in the midst of such crushing circumstances. It's also a book about the small things that can bring hope and happiness, even when you're a death row inmate.

I thought this was going to be more fantastical than realistic, and while there are elements of fantasy and imagination, this is a book firmly rooted in the realism of the criminal justice system. And while it's certainly a bit of a downer, Rene Denfeld has created such a memorable cast of characters, and designed such a unique spin on what we've come to expect from books and movies about prisons, this is a book you'll feel in your heart as it engages your mind. Denfeld's storytelling and her use of language were pretty fantastic.

I won't be surprised to see this book on my best-of list for 2016 early next year!!

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,486 followers
July 27, 2015
The Enchanted is not your traditional fairy tale. It is deep, dark and disturbing, and takes place on death row. It's what is created to sustain an inmate's sanity and survival. It's a glimpse into the human side of monsters who have done unthinkable horrors to others. It's a story of hope even as death waits. This is a read I found myself putting down frequently to contemplate. Denfeld manages to do the unthinkable: have us feel compassion for men we consider evil. 5 stars and a must read.
Profile Image for Warda.
1,208 reviews19.7k followers
October 11, 2019
Reread. My heart is full and aching.


Loved, loved, loved this book.

The main premise of this story is about an inmate who's on death row. The story is told through his eyes. We are introduced to other characters as well and we get their perspectives and hear their stories and it all starts to interconnect.

This book was just powerful and beautifully written, dark, atmospheric, captivating and completely enchanting. I was given an insight into the prison system and about those on death row that I was previously ignorant on.

I so appreciated that I was being taught whilst reading this book. That those on death row, who've committed the worst crimes imaginable are still deserving of empathy. To understand their situation and to get to the root of the crime, before we as a society, judge them harshly without any context. Otherwise, as the book says, how else does one stop men and women becoming like that? It was such a powerful message.

And because of the confined space they are in, restricted from the outside world in every capacity, the main character finds a form of escapism. The prison becomes almost dreamlike and a beautiful place, because that's the world he created for himself in order to deal with his trauma. The magical realism element was incorporated wonderfully.

It was difficult to read at times, because I was so immersed in the harsh reality, but ultimately, it was extremely rewarding. I really hope the author continues to write more fiction.
Highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
March 24, 2014
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. 2.5 Stars

Let me start my review by saying I wanted very badly to love this book like all my friends on Goodreads that have read it and have been seduced by it. To them I say.............I am Jealous of you all.
I pre ordered my copy in Hardback as this was going to be one of those books that would not be borrowed under any circumstances and would remain on my book shelf for many years to come.

But unfortunately I wasn't enchanted or impressed by it and was left feeling rather disappointed by much of the book and I will try and explain my reasons for my disappointment.

First the book is set in an ancient stone prison somewhere in America and to begin with I was drawn into the story until the author introduced the magic realism aspect of the tale and I was completely thrown and just disconnected with the book completely. I don't get magic realism and I think being Irish may have been told too many stories of fairly forts and enchanted forests as child.

I wanted to get to know the characters in this novel more and every time I thought I was getting the background information on one character (most of which remained nameless) I was thrown in a different direction. I found the fact that some of the characters remained nameless more distracting and confusing than an element of intrigue. I never seemed to get a sense of time or place from the novel and couldn't identity with the story as a result. I just finished the book feeling dissatisfied.

Now I have to agree the prose is impressive and this author knows how to draw in her audience. As I said at the beginning I am envious of my friends who enjoyed this story and for anyone reading this review be assured my dislike of this story is based on the fact that I don't enjoy stories when magic realism is an element.

And so this beautiful book will not sit on my book shelf :-( but rest assured all you lovers of The Enchanted I will endeavor to find a suitable home for it among my friends.
Profile Image for Laura.
828 reviews256 followers
August 8, 2017
I don't think I've ever read a book with so many broken people. I think that some readers are going to say that the author is promoting propaganda but I think she was sharing with us a different take on humanity. She shares with us a side to these individuals that we could not possibly think are human. It's not promoting crimes without punishment but to maybe take a step back to see why someone commits such unspeakable crimes. The book spoke to me about a broken world that exists with real evil and real people struggling. You see into the lives of the lady, the priest, and the warden all struggling with their own brokenness, hurts, scars and regrets. There's a lot going on in this book and the author writes in a way you don't want to stop reading regardless of how difficult the scenarios are. I hope this isn't the last fictional book this author attempts bc she is truly a gifted fictional writer.

Reading again for the 2nd time for book club...still tough.

Reread for neighborhood book club: This book still strips you down even knowing the entire plot. This book makes you ask questions and think about some hard subjects. You can't help but to feel so many emotions while reading this book. I am anxious to see how book club members respond and are affected. Can a book like this be a glimpse of redemption? Please Rene Denfeld give us another novel.

Update:new novel on the way Sept 2017. Very excited!
Profile Image for Samra Yusuf.
60 reviews401 followers
February 11, 2018
The world we live in, have many worlds within, worlds within worlds, different than ours, the world of less-humans, where to live has an entirely disparate impression than what we think it to be. Where, to live is a curse and to die a luxury, where time ceases to breathe, and hopes die like the last flicker of fragile flame, the world of faceless shadows who are numbered and never named, where you only hear the melody of clinking shackles and of heart shattering screams, of silenced shouts. The world, where you enter for redemption and become the incurable lepers, never to be accepted in our world again, “This is a place of true imagination.” You become what you pretend to be, monsters in most cases, Welcome to The Enchanted, where death dances naked and lovers are always to leave in the midcoitus!
Our narrator is such a faceless shadow, who occupies very little space in the world he exists, who chooses not to be heard and never been seen all his life by any human eye, he is, what our world names “psycho case”. He has something to tell us, about the place, the people he met, the foods he’s tasted and now no longer remembers the taste, the crime he’s done and now details are slipping from his memory, like others, narrator has something too terrible to tell crime. Most of the men she works with are guilty. They may not be guilty of all they were charged, but they are guilty of more than enough. Many are guilty of even worse, the crimes that were suspected and never proved.
Now he is here, the prison he names the enchanted. And he has built a world, within a world, far from his gruesome adjoining, far from the voices he hears but never returns them, far from the rape shade, from the rat cell, far enough to be touched by any human caress, he has built the world untouchable! He has books and he has memories, and the blanket to hide from the world, of us. Sometimes, he craves to see the color, any color, of sky, dirt, of birds who chirp right above his secluded cell, of eyes of the lady who visits the next door inmate York, he has forgotten how rain tastes like, once in a while, he gets lucky, he tastes rain. I get down and taste it. It is not the taste of fall rain, which tastes like rotting leaves. It is not the taste of winter rain, which tastes like cold melted ice. No, this is the taste of spring rain, fresh with cut grass and new life.
He is tired, he wants it to end, and he wants his life to end, never to be returned in our world again, for him, I was an abortion that went undone. I want to tell her I wish I could take it all back, fold back into the womb, erase myself into a seed, and make myself obsolete. Never have been, never was here, never did those terrible, horrible, heartbreaking things to her son..
And as we know, there’s no redemption in confession, he has known it too, Arden embraces death with peace in heart, as despair roots from hope, and when there’s no hope, never is there any despair!!
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
633 reviews349 followers
November 15, 2015
“ Maybe we can stop men like me from happening. The lady has a gift, and I hope she keeps using it. It is the gift of understanding men like me.”

This book is compelling, haunting, mesmerizing, edgy, uncomfortable, unforgettable. I feel the need to find a Thesaurus to find words adequate enough to describe it. It immerses the reader in the pain of others causing one to rethink some ground rules you may have set for the limits of your compassion and does so with beautiful writing and pacing. Think of the most evil real life criminals guilty of unspeakable crimes against others and then imagine being a fly on the wall in their cells or seeing inside their twisted minds. This book is a virtual trip into their world. So dark yet not the nightmare I feared. By that I mean the author was very revealing, yet restrained. Reading it reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s genius of building almost unbearable suspense by pulling his audience into a film but allowing the space to use their own imagination; what one writer described as “often inviting them to fill in the blanks." There are the right amount of blanks in these pages. I feared it might be too gruesome and put off reading it for a long time based on that fear.

How can I explain how awesome this book is; that I’m grateful to the author for composing something that reached my deepest humanity? It’s fiction based on fact because she’s the lady who has been there and knows that ugly and disturbing as it is, more people need to look more closely if we ever hope to have some answers and hope. No regrets here.
Profile Image for Ron.
394 reviews97 followers
September 5, 2015
I had not previously heard of The Enchanted before seeing it on a book club wall. I was interested, but not all that much, right? I really wasn’t expecting it to be this good.

Before reading, I had barely glanced at the jacket description. I do that sometimes because I just don’t want to know. Therefore, I had this idea going in that the building itself, housing the prisoners, was the “enchanted”, and hence the reason for the title. I figured we had a fantasy here of some sort. Well, I was wrong. That happens a lot. To describe what the enchanted means in the book would probably spoil a few things, so I won’t.

Rene Denfeld writing is almost lyrical, especially in areas of the book where she just lets it go. Within the seriousness of the story, there are elements of satire and of fantasy. At one point in the book, our unnamed narrator, a man waiting on death row in the dungeon of the building, feels the tremors of the golden horses beginning their run deep down in the earth below the dungeons. Denfeld doesn’t come out and tell us what these golden horses are; she lets the reader figure it out through the mind of the narrator. There are a handful of other characters at the center of the story; the lady, the fallen priest to name a couple of them. Each has a subplot that knits the whole story into one.

I got to say that I almost gave it four stars because at times the prison is made out to be so bad it’s unreal. But then I remember it is a book of fiction meant to give a point and I get over myself. Can’t say it’s for everyone’s list, but I really liked it.
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,169 followers
August 27, 2015
I am late to the party on this book and I'm going to be the odd one out on "The Enchanted". Most people loved it but sadly not me. It is original and beautifully written but so so so dark that it didn't work for me. The magical realism with the subject matter I struggled with.

Don't take my word for it. Try It! It's a case of it's me not the book.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,860 followers
June 2, 2014
Every once in a great while, a book enters my life and quick like ivy, its words and images rise and twist around my imagination and intellect. Rene Denfeld's extraordinary debut The Enchanted is one such book. I feel compelled to push it into everyone's hands, saying, "You must read this. You simply must." It's been nearly two years since the last time I read something that made me ache to shout it from the rooftops--another debut by an Oregon writer: Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist. Yet, these two books could not be more dissimilar in style, content, and theme.

I nearly set this aside after just a few pages. I will caution you. The Enchanted deals with the ugliest, most hopeless themes a writer can conjure: abuse, incest, rape, mental illness, murder. It is set in a prison. Two of its characters are on death row.

And yet.

Rene Denfeld works a kind of magic. This is a book of luminous and captivating prose and imagery, where angels of mercy shimmer in the darkest corners. Where horses gallop free, making the dripping, crumbling walls in the lowest level of this Gothic nightmare of a prison shudder and the warden laugh, even as he prepares a prisoner for his final moments on earth.

The author seamlessly weaves multiple points of view and many richly drawn characters into a very few pages. The narrator is the only first-person perspective. He is the prison's most notorious death row resident, but his crimes remain untold. Mute, communicating only with the reader from the maze of his mind, this inmate views death row as sanctuary, its dank confines the only place he has found peace.

Some characters are named: the prisoners York, Risk, Arden; Conroy, a brutal guard; Auntie Beth, a witness to a young boy's wretched upbringing. Other characters, whom we come to know intimately, painfully, remain only lower case titles: the warden; the priest; the white-haired boy. The lady.

The lady. She is a death row investigator, like the author herself. Retained by York's attorneys, she is delving into the condemned's life, trying to uncover evidence that can be used to stay York's execution, to transmute his sentence from death to life. They share, as she learns, a similar horrific past. Yet, she became an angel-wounded, with broken wings- and he became a demon. York spurns her attempts to find mercy. He wants to die.

Death is nearly as present a character as any living one in The Enchanted and the reader is reminded that we are all the walking dead, facing the same inevitable end as those on death row. Denfeld forces our moral hand, showing us all sides of the debate: the victims, the criminals, the decision-makers, and we are put in the uncomfortable position of empathizing with each. The warden, whose wife is in the end stages of cancer, contemplates the pro and anti death penalty protestors gathering outside his prison before an execution, and

He wonders why so many easily accept death when it's caused by old age or cancer or even suicide, yet refuse to endorse death by execution. It seems wrong to him. No on deserves death more than someone like York or Striker or especially Arden. And yet those are the deaths that others will say are unnatural, not that of his dear sweet wide, a woman who raised three kids and never did anyone a wrong pass.

There are few writers who can wrest hope from the pit of horror with such eloquence. I think of Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, who chronicled their Holocaust experiences, or Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison showing us the wretchedness of slavery and Jim Crow. These writers compel us to bear witness to humanity's darkest hours with beautiful language. With the same poignant but unsentimental style, Rene Denfeld applies a tender, humane voice to society's nightmares. She pries them open, releasing mystical creatures as symbols that help us understand our complex, real fears.

Astonishing, original, terrible, and exquisite. It would not surprise me to see this nominated for book awards, and ranked high on critics' best of lists. It damn well better be.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,300 reviews450 followers
August 12, 2017
"Even monsters need peace. Even monsters need a person who truly wants to listen--to hear--so that someday we might find the words that are more than boxes. Then maybe we can stop men like me from happening."

This is the saddest, hardest book I have ever read. There are no characters here who have not been horribly damaged by their childhood, or escaping that, by their time in prison. They are on death row for doing unspeakable, gruesome crimes. They deserve to be there. But the language and style used in this novel show us the humanity even in the worst of us.

It took me 4 days to read this mercifully short novel. I say mercifully short because it made my soul ache while reading, so could only read for short periods of time. I didn't read at bedtime because I didn't want these people in my head all night long. But I couldn't stop reading, either. I'm glad I didn't give up, because the ending was a magical, uplifting, and, yes, enchanting work of art. I will give it 5 stars because, even though I lack the fortitude to ever read it again, this is a novel I will never forget.

Thanks to Laura Webber for her high praise and wonderful review of this book. Without that, I doubt I would have finished it, and never felt the hope and beauty it gave me. I'll never take for granted seeing the blue sky, hearing the birds sing, or feeling a human touch.
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
September 17, 2020
Heartbreaking saga inside a decrepit prison

This is a depiction of what life is like inside prison walls from the viewpoint of a killer on death row. He, the murderer, has built up a fantasy of mythical creatures to enhance and mitigate the horror that surrounds him, including vicious prisoners and prison guards. Everything about his life is miserable, the dank, lice-ridden cell, the disgusting food, little more than slop, and his own memories of his despicable crime.

This is written beautifully, and I felt empathy for these criminals. I know that their horrific childhoods made them what they are in many cases, I can't recommend this, though because it's too depressing.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
November 25, 2015

I can't finish this book. Having lost a loved one , a victim of a robbery , it's too difficult for me to sympathize with these prisoners, no matter how beautiful the language or the message . I should have trusted my intuition that this was not going to be for me.
Profile Image for Lynda.
204 reviews97 followers
March 11, 2014
"Back so long ago, when they built this enchanted place, they killed men in three ways: They waited for them to die, they worked them to death, and they hanged them.

Not much has changed. Instead of working men to death, there is a slow starvation of the body and soul. And instead of rope, they use a machine."

"This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it, but I do."
Publisher's synopsis
The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

If there is one book that you simply must read over the course of 2014, it is The Enchanted. This is one of the most powerful, moving, haunting, intense, gut-wrenching, perplexing and captivating reads that I have experienced in a long, long time. I can not rate this book highly enough. 24 hours after having finished it I am still there, in the prison dungeons, listening, lurking, completely transfixed.

Written by Rene Denfeld, a fact investigator in death penalty cases, The Enchanted is a powerful book that gives death row a face. It is about characters whose lives intersect on death row; an inmate, an investigator and a chaplain, together with some strong secondary characters.

The story of each character individually is compelling, but they are interconnected so beautifully that they burst with emotion. The fluid prose that defines this novel is passionate and thought-provoking. Denfeld so artfully balances moments of stark sadness and cruelty, with such poignant images of beauty and grace.

Death row inmates deal with their demons in different ways. Some clutch their faith. Others draw or paint or write. Our narrator chooses to read voraciously and live in a fantasy world.
"The most wonderful enchanted things happen here - the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow."
Those on death row are convicted criminals; many are guilty of unspeakable cruelty and the most vicious of crimes. The Enchanted paints a picture of the 'person' and not just the crime for which they were committed. It explores the why. What made this person? Why did they do the things they did? What does it mean to be human?

He holds his fingers out of the cage. It is the eternal gesture of hope that says "touch me".

This book by design is intrusive and uncomfortable and challenges our core beliefs. But it is also beaufiful and breathtaking and simply enchanting. A must read for everyone.

5/5 magical golden horses!
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