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Bookworm: 'The Enchanted' novel gives glimpse of beauty in old prison

By Kathleen Duncan
May 21, 2014 at 12:21 a.m.


A death row inmate can hear the golden horses running beneath the prison, shaking the dust from the walls and the stones from their foundations. He can hear the little men in the walls and the creatures who consume the ash of the dead.

To him, the prison is a terrifying and magical place full of that which is both beautiful and deadly. He experiences it all alone because he cannot speak. If he screams, he is the only one who hears it.

It's through him in his silent cell where he watches and listens that we are exposed to death row and those who live, die and work there. We get to know the inmates, the lady, the warden and the fallen priest.

The lady is an investigator who saves death row inmates from their execution by exploring their past and finding the history behind their crimes.

While inquiring into the background of York, an inmate she has very little time to save, she begins to see the mirroring of her own upbringing in his.

They both lived through unspeakable acts in their childhoods and ended up on opposite sides of the same place.

He, behind bars and wanting so desperately to die. Her, working to keep him alive though she isn't sure she should.

The fallen priest used to believe. Or at least, he believed that he believed. He thought he had found his path, but it was all too easy for him to stumble from it. One day, it just happened. It seemed as if it was his fate to eventually fall.

Now, he reads letters to illiterate prisoners and attempts to help condemned men find peace in their final moments.

The warden runs the prison. He tries to make sure that the guards are good people who stop the murders, rapes and drugs from increasing inside the walls. He tries; he really does. But there are thousands of prisoners and no extra help to watch those who need watching.

The fallen priest, the warden and the lady - people who have experienced great loss or shame themselves but are still trying to help those who have wandered even more irrevocably astray.

In "The Enchanted" by Rene Denfeld, we are mesmerized by a stunning world of violence, faith, trust and guilt sheltered by the corrupt, crumbling walls of the old prison.

The lives of those inside are constantly shredded by the sharp edges of fear so strong you can almost taste it. But there is also understanding, deep loss and even the faintest bit of hope.

The beauty of the smallest aspects of everyday life - the blue sky, the warbling of a songbird, the tinkling of a spring, the rustling of wind through the trees - is enhanced by the rarity in which these characters experience them.

Those in "The Enchanted" live in a dark pierced by only the rarest flickers of light.

They embody humanity at its worst, its most honest and maybe even at its best.

Inside the walls of this prison, we feel sympathy, heartache and pity for even the greatest of wrongdoers, whether they are behind the bars or in front of them.

And as each character awaits his or her final breath, we cannot help but wonder if it's true, as our narrator says, that "even monsters need peace."

Kat Duncan is the photo and video editor at the Advocate. She loves to read, travel, run and play with her pup, Panda. Chat with her about books on Twitter @Kat Duncan_VA.

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