Discussion: So Brave, Young, and Handsome

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Welcome to week one of our discussion of Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome! We’re so very glad that you’re here. Please speak up, share your thoughts, and pose additional questions to the group. Your voice matters. For the over-achievers in the class who’ve read ahead, let’s agree to keep conversation within the boundaries of the reading schedule—i.e., no spoilers in the comments! Thanks in advance for waiting on the rest of us.

Discussion Part One: “A Thousand a Day”

In the opening pages, the narrator gives an orientation of his writing career and family, and we’re given glimpses of his longings and fears. Out of the mist rows a mysterious vagabond, whose presence sets the action of the story into motion. When Redstart, the narrator’s son, is talking with his parents and insisting that the stranger would indeed be joining them for dinner, he explains,

He told me his name. He didn’t want to say it, but I tricked him and out it came. You know what happens, once you get a person’s name. . . Why, then you have power over him. —p.9

1. What do you think he means? What other stories come to mind?

2. Do you think it’s significant that we learn the narrator’s name only after this conversation takes place? What other passages refer to the importance of name?

3. What themes do you see being introduced?

A line only gets grace when it curves, you know. –p.19

4. What images/stories does this bring to mind?

5. What does this tell us about Glendon? What insight do we get from Becket’s response?

Let the discussion begin, and don’t be shy with questions of your own.

Bonus questions: The novel is set in 1915. What was the state of the country at that time? The state of the world? The state of American literature in which Monty is a sudden hit?

Discussion Introduction
Week 1: “A Thousand a Day”
Week 2: “The Old Desperate”
Week 3: “Jack Waits”
Week 4: “The 101”
Week 5: “The Fiery Siringo”
Week 6: “The Rarotongans”


69 Comments

  1. Loran

    1. Rumplestiltskin comes to mind. Of course, the power in knowing his name is only granted by his riddle. I think of a good friend from a foreign country that is learning English. She has explained to me that in her original language she would never say a curse word, but in English it means nothing to her. Maybe this is because language is only powerful because of its use/familiarity. What word is more familiar to a person than their name?

    2. I didn’t notice this! Perhaps due to all of the reviews I read before taking on the book … What do you all think? Does reading a review take away from the path of discovery an author intended? I have a few comments on other passages but they aren’t specific to Part I so I digress.

    3. I definitely thought the theme of mourning for childhood would be more prominent, judging by the way the character introduced his son.

    4. The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnen Rawlings was brought to mind by the narrator’s fond description of his son.

    5. Not much, I’ll concede. Although it does represent a void in Glendon’s life that he himself has no son of which to fondly describe.

    Bonus: World War I was just beginning. The US of course did not enter until 1917, but the state of the world was very uncertain. In times of uncertainty, who doesn’t want to be whisked away to another romantic adventure?

  2. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    1. I love the point about not knowing Monty’s name until after Redstart’s comment. Then on the very next page, Monty essentially gives Glendon power over him, which incites the rest of the book. Very insightful, Julie.

    5. A bit off topic, but I first read this book when I was building a cedar canoe, and I was delighted by how accurate Enger’s descriptions of boatbuilding are. It’s a very difficult thing to talk about unless you’ve actually done it, and I have little doubt that Enger has. This whole passage is a great bit of foreshadowing. Good stuff.

  3. Matthew Benefiel

    First off, thanks for doing this; the book is very poetic and entrancing.

    1. Judging from the father’s comments here about his son having to tell him what it means to have someones name, made me think Redstart was kind of joking, as he seems easily drawn to the imaginary worlds. That said knowing someone’s name also makes it personal, so it breaks a boundary. One story that comes to mind is The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, a book where knowing the Maker’s language gives you the true form of that object, so knowing someone’s true names gives you power over them.

    2. I also didn’t notice this directly, I did notice that I hadn’t caught Monte’s name till after that. The only significance I can think is that opposite of Glendon, who you hear his name then get to know him, while Monte by the time you hear his name you feel you already know him in a sense.

    3. A line only get grace when it curves – well that could be a redemption theme, that only when we bend to we become what we need to be, reliant on God. It could also be that a life is like a boat, it’s hard to see what the purpose is until the general shape comes into play, then it can be crafted to perfection. I probably shouldn’t be mentioning this, but since they were working on a boat and boats are generally referred to as female, I couldn’t help but think of my wife who God made with curves and how she shines the brightest when I am serving her above myself.

    4. Now that I’ve mentioned boats and female, Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green come to mind, and how Fin Button became who she was after so many trials and sorrows.

    5. It tells me that Glendon has come to appreciate how a boat comes together, and perhaps then his own life, how he may be hoping to be shaped himself. It seems Monte dialog is before, but my guess is his response was more about the boat itself and how what he had thought were nice lines were just the beginning.

    Bonus: I was wondering the timeframe myself. It was obviously toward the end of the wild west age as motion pictures were becoming a reality. That timeframe was the era of barn storming and the depression, so American’s were looking for something new and exiting I would say, something to get out of the monotony and off of the struggles.

    Other Thoughts:
    A big theme I saw is that life takes on a different turn than we tend to imagine initially. Monte is trying to be an author (which many of us would love to try), but writing a 1000 words a day doesn’t make a story, 7 times now Monte has created unique characters with great starts, but all too soon they take turns for the worse and Monte gives up. Then comes this Glendon fellow who he least expects coming out of the mist, a man who’s life seems to have taken strange turns, and now Monte faces either the old road, or the new in an adventure with Glendon.

    My question:
    What did others think of the dialog?

    Myself I loved it, I had actually turned to that sort of dialog myself while re-writing my own book. Its a simple dialog based on the context and setting, it seems simple, yet holds profound understanding. Needless to say Leif is a master at it: I feel like G.K. Chesterton’s sailor who landed on a new country, and after storming the beach and after planting the flag in England’s name, finds out it is England. I’m that happy fool to think I came up with a dialog (not really, I figured I couldn’t be the first), only to find that someone else had perfected it and I felt the excitement of the new experience while having the comfort of home when reading the same structure elsewhere.

    Also did anyone else feel like they were invited into a family and shown a glimpse of the love in such a few short pages?

  4. Matthew Benefiel

    Ha, I need to brush up on history, depression came after the first war and was helped to end by the second. My bad.

  5. Loran

    I made the same mistake, Matthew. 🙂

    The dialog certainly drew me in and held me hostage (maybe why I couldn’t wait to read along with the prompts).

    The familial invitation seems to linger throughout the book, despite the non-traditional families that are presented as the story progresses. Maybe a reminder that, despite a person’s poor decisions and life choices, there is always a side to a person that is amicable and pleasant, only needing the lens of grace through which to view it.

  6. Matthew Benefiel

    Loran,
    So true, I’ve even been finding the opposite as well, that in every amicable and pleasant person there is turmoil. It wasn’t until I came out of some of my own turmoil (by grace) that I was able to see it in others. I hope I can use that to God’s glory. That’s one thing I love about Rabbitroom, people post, write, and sing about their own struggles and how they overcome them, which in turn encourages us all.

  7. April Pickle

    I love the name game going on here. After we learn Monte’s full name, Glendon teases Redstart that he now knows his first and last name, while Redstart only knows Glendon’s first name. But after Monte and Glendon become friends, they confess their sins to each other, and Glendon tells Monte his last name. It’s Hale. So, instead of Monte and Glendon going on a trip, or Monte Becket and Glendon going on an adventure, we have Monte Becket and Glendon Hale going on an adventure. It’s a beautiful thing.

    And my favorite line, in addition to the one about the curve, is Monte commenting about his new friend: “I admired his plain language and courtesy and the way he found everything interesting but himself.”

  8. redheadkate

    “A line only gets grace when it curves…” In math the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but in life we often need those twists and turns (and curves)to teach us what we need later down the path. Doesn’t always make it fun or easy; though it can be.

    Another theme/idea that I saw came at the end of the section when Susannah told Monte to go to Mexico. It was what he wanted to do but would not allow himself to do. He needed someone else to give him permission. Not really sure what to call it – but that nudge from people we trust saying “go for it, do that thing you are longing for but can’t quite take that leap without a little push”.

  9. April Pickle

    Speaking of curves, I just remembered something my daughter, Abby, wrote several weeks ago. She has given me permission to paste it here. She’s reading the book right now!

    A curve is a plea for motion
    Drawing to itself
    Objects set in forward force
    Calling out
    For the rhythm of breathe
    Of focus and tilt
    It is ever in the act
    Of coiling
    Or coming straight
    It is written
    Like a change in chords
    It is a change in direction
    It is all at once
    The joy of both notes
    Of both places
    And the adventure of passing
    Of sanctification
    It is the crest of a wave
    Crashing
    The same soul
    Being ever made new
    It is the turn
    And revelation
    That lends speed
    And calls laughter
    A promise that leads
    To yet another vista

  10. Matthew Benefiel

    Abby’s poem is great! It’s taking me multiple reads to parse through it. I find myself thinking through illustrations as a narrator speaks each line (kinda like those old UPS commercials where the guy writes on a dry erase board – but so much better of course).

  11. Julie Silander

    Kate – Great thought regarding Susannah. Although she appears to play a minor role, without her nudge, the story would have ended before it got started. How true that is in life. Sometimes we’re on the adventure, but sometimes we’re doing the nudging of another. We need each other.

    Loren – Along those lines, I like the picture of the familial invitation. The “family dynamics” tell us a great deal about the characters.

  12. April Pickle

    Oops also on Abby’s poem. It’s “breath,” not “breathe.” (Mom’s day is made now that the author whose quote is painted on her wall liked it!)

  13. Brenda Branson

    1. The power of a person’s name–the first thought was about Rumplestiltskin, but then other instances came to mind such as Bilbo Baggins trying to keep Smaug from learning his name. Ancient Jews would not say the name “Yahweh” aloud; some believed it bestowed power on a person by simply speaking it. Choosing a name for a child used to be taken much more seriously than today. Names were chosen to denote character, appearance, circumstance, etc. Perhaps knowing a person’s name made him/her more vulnerable to others. It could serve as a doorway into the heart which would either be guarded and blocked or open and welcoming.

    2. I didn’t catch it that Monte’s name was not given until after Glendon’s first name was revealed. The importance of a name is mentioned again on p. 12 when Glendon reminded Redstart that he only knew Glendon’s first name, but Glendon knew both of Redstart’s. On. p. 20 Glendon reveals his last name to Monte after an intimate conversation where Monte referred to Glendon as a friend.

    3. The “grace” theme seems to be defined by suffering and transparency in both the lives of Glendon (failure in relationship with “Blue”) and Monte (seeing himself as a fraud and failure).

    One thing I noticed on page 14 was a reference to one of Monte’s stories about a boy who shoots two intruders and becomes a fugitive from the law. That struck me as very funny because it’s one of the storylines from Leif’s first book “Peace Like A River.”

  14. Matt Wood

    Abby’s poem is beautiful! Thanks for sharing April.

    As I was reading these pages yesterday, I was struck by the theme of confession running through them. Maybe this is because I am a pastor and I had led my congregation in confessing our sins just a few hours earlier, or because people often confess their sins to me (not seeking forgiveness from me, but hungry to be reminded of the grace of the gospel or just not knowing where else to turn). The whole thing feels like a confession from Becket. He is confessing his failure to follow up Martin Bligh with another novel, and perhaps his folly in thinking that he could. But more than that, he is confessing his inability to confess to his wife. Yet he is able to freely confess to Glendon. Why is this? Probably because Glendon has just made his own failures known, and he has proclaimed that it is only in the curves that we get grace. It is only as we get off the “straight and narrow” that we even need grace, and only as we admit that we have gotten off the “straight and narrow” that we receive it. We don’t see any failures in Susannah to this point. She is the loving, supportive, righteous wife on a pedestal. It is understandable how it might be harder to confess to her. Maybe this is a bit unfair on Susannah. I will admit that. She is gracious in the end.

    My point is that reading this made me think about Christians as folks who need to confess our sins to one another so that we can then constantly remind one another of the grace of the gospel. The question is, how do we become people others can be open with about their sins? I think it is by being open about our own sins and the grace we have received, freely sharing the curves of our own lives that actually make us all the more beautiful because of the grace of God shining through them.

  15. Dan R.

    One thing I’d love to have under discussion here is the Peter Pan characterization of Glendon. I haven’t read the book through before, so if it comes up more later I’ll be happy to await the discussion then. I had a thought that maybe this ties into the naming theme, though.

    Also, something else that comes to mind from church this week: Jesus asking his disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?… Who do you say I am?” And while I’m at it, one of my favorite Bible verses about this is Revelation 2:17, which includes “To the one who is victorious I will… give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

  16. Chinwe

    1. I think the point about a person’s name giving you power over them is echoed by another passage in the book, where Glendon is talking about how he met Blue. He says, “Once I knew her voice, you see, I couldn’t leave. No, then I had to hear her laugh.”

    I love this illustration of how deeply we can affect each other – a name, a voice, a laugh. I think there’s something to that.

  17. Matthew Benefiel

    Amen Matt Wood, amen. I think God makes us those people. Years ago I would never had talked about my inward heart to anyone but God, but then God broke me down, made me realize that I wasn’t depending on Him; it was then that though I felt ashamed of my sin, I did not feel ashamed of the grace of God that brought me out of that sin and to share such joy and encouragement with others. I’ll try not to take over this post for while.

  18. Pete T

    April, I also really enjoyed this quote: “I admired his plain language and courtesy and the way he found everything interesting but himself.” It highlights either a wonderful character trait or perhaps a character defect of some kind (perhaps he under values himself) and I’m curious if we will find out which.

  19. Chinwe

    “The question is, how do we become people others can be open with about their sins? I think it is by being open about our own sins and the grace we have received, freely sharing the curves of our own lives that actually make us all the more beautiful because of the grace of God shining through them.”

    Ah! Such good stuff! There is beauty and such deep grace in the curves of our lives!

  20. Pete T

    I notice “friendship” as a theme, in chapter six most notably. The exchange of confession between Glendon and Monte centers on vulnerability and trust (“You’d best know I am unreliable, that I am a poor friend.” Didn’t you love that whole section?). Perhaps this is why you have power over another when you have their name. A name is like a door you walk through to enter friendship, and there’s power in having entered it because once through there is a greater chance for pain.
    Please don’t think I’m trying to earn points by sharing this quote from Godric. It’s just that I very recently read that book through for the first time and this quote really jumped out at me. It’s about the opportunity for pain in friendship:
    “What’s friendship, when all’s done, but the giving and taking of wounds?” It’s a cynical view of friendship, but spun positively, yes, friends wound each other, and then they bear it through.
    I imagine that the friendship that is developing now will have it’s fair share of wounds. We will see.

  21. Loran

    No worries, Julie! It’s just my name after all … 😉 I kid, I kid.

    Brenda, I *love* that you brought up Yaweh. Acts 4:12 says “There is no other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved.” So, conversely with the name of Jesus, instead of us having power over Him, we have power THROUGH him! “And ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me … unto the uttermost part of the world” (rusty KJV memory here).

  22. Jennifer K.

    4. “A line only gets grace when it curves..” – this brought to mind a host of images – images that were further defined and beautified by Abby’s lovely poem. I think about curves with which the designer imbues strength, from eggshells to temples. I think of sails and parachutes filled with seemingly insubstantial air – one to gather speed and one to dampen it. I think of parabolas…sweeping curves that comets and spacecraft use to gather momentum from gravitational pull. I think of an archer’s bow…it moves from an inert tautness to a gathering of power…an expectation of flight…all from the wielding of the hands of the bowman.

    Something else that really struck me was all the nature imagery that Enger paints in here and there. I LOVE his son’s name – Redstart – it’s a cheeky little warbler that birders covet for their lists and photo ops. Just seeing this reference struck me speechless because it’s not something one hears unless you are at a confluence of birders such as TOS or the Audubon Society. He also mentions the elusive bittern. I’d love to find out if Enger’s a birder – I’d bet he is!

  23. Julie Silander

    Loran – Just illustrating the reality that we often think we know the true names of those in our lives but are often off by a few degrees (or a letter). Does that help?

    April – Love the poem. Just beautiful.

  24. Brenda Branson

    Does anyone else have to consult a dictionary to learn the meaning of some of the words in this book? In this first section, there are many new words I’ve never heard before.

  25. redheadkate

    Jennifer K’s comment sent me back to my art history classes and arches. Arches and the corresponding curve opened up a new realm of possibilities in building. Height, space, beauty. The same is true for boat building. A boat can’t cut through the water without the proper lines. The lines give it the ability to be graceful.

    Julie and Loran’s comments on names are so true. My given name is Katherine, but I’ve always gone by Kate. There are a few people (who have known me for years) who call me Katie, and it bothers me. Katie is a perfectly fine name…but it isn’t my name. There is power in a name because it is something very personal, something ours alone. Think of how much effort goes into naming animals, much less people. It’s a big deal.

  26. April Pickle

    I’m enjoying these comments so much! Thank you, Julie, for hosting this!
    @Jennifer K: I’m so glad you shared that about the name Redstart. I had no idea!
    @Matthew Benefiel: I’ve enjoyed your comments today.
    @Pete T: I wondered the same thing about the quote. Glad you had the guts to say it! I’m thinking it’s a positive trait, but I’m not quite sure. This may be because I’m reading a little booklet by Tim Keller called “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” (thanks to a recommendation by Dave Burden on a Midtown Fellowship podcast).
    @Matt Wood: I will be chewing on your comment for a while. Thank you for jumping in, and welcome to the Rabbit Room, my good pastor!
    @Kate: “The lines give it the ability to be graceful.” Ties in so nicely with Matt Wood’s comment: “It is only as we get off the “straight and narrow” that we even need grace, and only as we admit that we have gotten off the “straight and narrow” that we receive it. And you are most definitely KATE!

    Why does Glendon confess to Monte? Is it because he feels at ease with Monte’s graciousness, or would he have confessed to someone like Susannah, too? I know that there have been times when I am so blessed by someone’s willingness to confess to me, that it frees me to confess as well. But there have been other times when I’ve been the one confessing to begin with, and it’s because I sense grace in the other person.

  27. Nathan

    It’s funny. The first thing I went to was the name meanings themselves. Monte (depending on whether you go with Montague or Montgomery) means hill of some kind. Becket means he dwells by a stream or river. Glendon is something to the effect of “settles in the glen”, while Hale means hero. I pictured Monte’s house the same as I pictured the house Jayber Crow grew up in, and if I remember correctly, it sat by a river, on the side of a hill. As far as Glendon’s name, I won’t give anything away, but his name foreshadows some things later on. It’s interesting that his name also sheds light on the idea that he is the hero of the story, in one sense or another.

    I love the description of lines. In a way, Mr. Enger seems to be setting a theme before us, concerning the law. There are lines (read lives) that are straight and rigid, and there are lives that have curve and flow beautifully. In my work with people, I have always heard that if you are truly alive, then you will be able to bend, flex, adapt. If you are dead, you will be brittle and break. Adversity is coming, Glendon and Monte, though it has already visited you both.

    Matt, Jennifer, and Loran, I was also thinking about naming children and how important it is. It’s such a mysterious thing (I nearly wrote magical), in that somehow identity, name, and personhood are intertwined. People tend to grow into their names, or the meaning of their names. It’s why people don’t name their kids Jezebel or Delilah…

    Does anyone else see that connection in their own lives or that of their children? We sure have (for our kids as well as pets), and I can think of one man I know that named his sons after all those judges and heroes in the Bible…Gideon, Peter, and whatnot. They are a bunch of firecrackers, for sure. Coincidence?

    I think the names and the confessions bind them together. I’ll say no more.

  28. David and Sarah Rees

    The “power of a name” reminds me of the first Prydain book “The Book of Three,” and the fact that the only thing that could conquer the Horned King was that Gwydion found out his name.

    Speaking of names, was I the only reader to have the impression that “Redstart” is somewhat of a strange name? The boy is “bird-like,” to be sure, but it is such an odd-sounding word. At first I thought it was some kind of flowering plant! It makes me think of Fodderwing in “The Yearling.” Perhaps only authors and celebs can pull that off?

    The quote about the gentlemanly Glendon being “interested in everything but himself” put me in mind of this quote by C. S. Lewis: “Don’t imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he won’t be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who’s always telling you that, of course, he’s nobody. Probably all you’ll think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him, it will be because you feel a bit envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He won’t be thinking about himself at all.”

  29. Abby Pickle

    1. Chapter 25 of N.D Wilson’s Dandelion Fire has some really beautiful dialogue on naming. One of the main themes is that a name shapes the person who wears it.
    2. I noticed that when Glendon first arrives for breakfast, he seems nervous “…kept glancing toward the house as though it were a place of dread.” But then once he learns Redstarts full name, it says “…up we went, his anxiety flown off with the breeze.” Becket didn’t give much weight to Redstarts words, gave away his first and last name straight off, gave away Restarts name as well, but Glendon truly believes the name gives power over people.
    Thank you all for receiving my poem with such enthusiasm, I am beyond thrilled. The first lines came to me while I was driving. It is such a joy to come upon a curve in the road. The tires clinging desperately to the asphalt, and there’s a moment of suspense where a wrong move could send everyone tumbling. But it feels so inevitable, like slinging through magnetic poles. I think it’s a picture of the way God gives us adventures. We have no say in it, and sometimes there is so much resentment. But it ends up so beautiful, with his children a bit closer to him. A curving road that leads us home. God always draws curves, and he writes stories with suspense.
    @ Jennifer K. I love what you said about the archers bow. Wow.

  30. Nathan

    Oh, and Tarzan, Tom Swift, Anne of Green Gables, Metamorphosis, and the Oz business were being put out at that point. The cowboy novels weren’t picking up yet, beyond cheap run of the mill books, which is surprising, because there was a great deal of sensationalism about the natural and romantic novels of the time. Zane Grey, who plays a tangential part in Peace Like a River, had just begun to publish. The cowboy heyday came later, I guess. It seems like one of the themes in the book might be “characters out of place/time”? Glendon seems like a throwback to an earlier age, and Monte’s time perhaps hasn’t come…

  31. Matthew Benefiel

    Oh man, I need to read Anne of Green Gables…I love the movie. That may sound funny, but there is something great about that movie, well done, good acting, and just a plain good old story.

  32. Nathan

    You know, I always cried when the old man died. For some reason, it resonated with me. Also, I associate watching that movie with eating chocolate fried pies. Weird? I think so.

  33. Chris Whitler

    Wow…I loved this first section.

    In my line of work, I meet lots of homeless people. I have a friend who calls himself a hobo. He lives in a little shack that he has built. The “hobo shack” is every 12 year old boy’s dream house. It is chock full of nooks and crannies and everything is neat and has a place. He has worked on it quite a bit. He also build bicycles from discarded parts.

    The only time he is truly polite is when he is around women. And he loves teaching my kids how to play dominos. Let’s just say that I have cast Glendon in my mind 🙂

    Good story and good conversation.

  34. janelle

    1. I like the reference to Anne of Green Gables, whose name (and especially the spelling) were important to her.

    2. I find it interesting that Monte doesn’t find out Glendon’s last name on Glendon’s first visit. Redstart may have not had the power over Glendon that he thought he had.

    3 I see a few themes emerging:

    Forgiveness–“After so many years does it matter if she forgives you?”
    “It matters that I ask.”

    Love– “Love is a strange fact–it hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. It makes no sense at all.”

    Confession/Grace–“I have not always obeyed the laws,” Glendon stated.
    “Nor I my conscience.”

    4. I love Kate’s comment on this!

    5. Glendon is a wise man, something I think Monte senses and longs for. I love the confession scene between Glendon and Monte. Although they’ve known each other a short while, they seemed to connect on a deeper level.

    Bonus: The US occupied Haiti in 1915. The world was in the midst of WWI, though the US didn’t enter the war until April 1917. American literature was in transition from Realism (1865-1915), which depicted though art the ordinary life (as opposed to the imagined), to the Modern Age (1915-1946), which was characterized by confusion.

    Question: Why has Monte failed in his attempts of writing a successful second novel? Is he afraid that he’s a “one hit wonder”?

  35. Matthew

    David and Sarah Rees, I’ve always liked the Prydain books. I finally broke down and bought them last year. I first read those along with Wizard of Earthsea (also power of names), Tripod Trilogy, and the Over Sea Under Stone series. All the talk of names got me to thinking of an book I started and it woefully sitting around waiting for nurturing. It was my first start as a fantasy book.

    I started a map, then found I was pinned down from the start on trying define all the places on the map. I was reading the Wingfeather Saga at the time (funny cause I’m reading them now again) and loved Andrew’s simplicity in his creatures, “toothy cow”, “horned hound”, “Gargan Rockroach”, okay maybe not the last one. Well it gave me an idea, that and the movie Wall-E where the director had Wall-E pickup trash because he didn’t have to explain to kids why to pick up trash; anyway, these gave me the idea to make countries with obvious names. Names like Kingsly, Stallist, Populace, and Whiim. Names really do carry weight. This freed me up to just get to the main part of the story.

    Speaking of the Wingfeather Saga, can one have power of Gnag the Nameless? The Aragon books kept the name theme going as well.

    Since I’m going I thought of a name that has always bothered me, other than the fact that he’s a horrible role model and a womanizer, but that would be James Bond. I’ve always thought it never added up. The character is either not known at all, when he should be, or he is known all too well but still manages to escape notice. It never added up to me. Everyone should know 007 = James Bond and James Bond = 007, so every villain should have power over him from the start, he’s an open book that for some reason is always underestimated on purpose.

  36. Matthew

    janelle,
    Your last question is a good one, what I’ve read so far it seems Monte has a good range of ideas, some just didn’t impress the editor, but it seems to me that Monte has a deeper problem. He thought he could simply write another book, but as Rabbitroom has discussed a number of times; the author writes himself into his stories. Monte’s characters always start out on the right path, but then they keep falling into disarray. It seems to me Monte is struggling in a deeper way and that is showing up in his books. It happens, it’s easy to start a story and oh so much harder to make something out of it, give it a voice. Bligh was successful because as Monte said, when he ran up against a brick wall, he threw a river in his way for him to cross. Monte is out of rivers and struggles for his character, maybe because he is trying to cross his own river. What is that river? A mundane life? A discontentment with his life as it stands?

  37. Lisa

    Matthew,
    Glad you mentioned the river. I think there is lots of symbolism there – Glendon comes to Monte via a river, after all. Something that comes to mind is of course the river of life, and the people who drift on by that you either ignore or welcome into your life. Monte was content with Glendon drifting by, but for the insistence of Redstart he might have stayed on the solid ground of his “stuck”‘life and not stepped into the tumultuous life of the river – “a little child shall lead them”, perhaps?
    Regarding the question about names and naming – this whole concept is an ancient one that resonates through many stories and legends. And also in Scripture, of course. I think if Adam, naming the animals in the Garden, or all the times God re-names people called to his purpose.
    Wonder if another theme could be the weight if expectations and responsibilities, and how people run away from them? Glendon has left his wife, and Monte is crumpling under the weight of what is expected of him, and at the end of this section is leaving it all behind, too.
    Love all the comments here – you all are certainly helping me to think deeper about the book and all the nuggets that are in even this small fragment.
    General comment – the sheer mastery of language here absolutely sweeps me off my feet. As s reader I it makes me want to both keep turning the pages to see what’s coming but also at the same time I want to read slowly, to savour every nugget. And and as a writer, well – let’s just say the bar has been set very high here, and that is a Very Good Thing.

  38. Mark Geil

    I just finished Peace Like a River, so as soon as I read about Monte’s “one hit wonder” fears and his struggles with a follow-up, I wondered how much of himself Enger was writing into the character. I don’t know his story well at all, but I gather that Peace Like a River was successful beyond all expectation, so Enger might have felt a similar weight when preparing this novel.

    Re. names, Ron Block has a great essay on the subject in The Molehill, Vol. I!

  39. Lisa

    Oops sorry about that. I was having trouble with trying to post and the message kept coming up that I had already posted….

  40. Julie Silander

    Nathan – Thanks for the detail on the names. I’ll look forward to seeing connections as we read forward.

    * Any other thoughts on the characters’ names and their meanings?

    Matthew/Lisa – Yes! The river itself is important.

    * What else comes to mind when you think of the river? What role does it play? For those who haven’t read ahead, any guesses?

    I seredipitously listened to Pete’s podcast on “The Art of Work” this past weekend. His description of crafting a boat is in itself a work of art. Take 5 minutes to listen. Consider it an audio illustration for the book.

    http://www.rabbitroom.com/podcast/episode-7-the-art-of-work-by-pete-peterson/

  41. sofia

    I’ve been enjoying the discussion on names & naming, as well as the way D&S Ree’s quote from CS Lewis illuminated Glendon’s character.

    One theme that has stood out to me is that of failure: both for Glendon & Monte. Glendon’s notable one seems to be with Blue (and that’s the one he’s seeking to remedy by asking for forgiveness), while Monte’s seems to be an accumulation of failures: his experience at the post office, his attempt at a second novel, the long time it took him to honestly confess his situation…

    Julie–somehow the river seems to be an escape (or a cure?–not sure yet) from failure: “you are no failure on a river” (p. 16). At any rate, Monte’s greatest desire is to escape, to take “flight from all I could not do,” (p. 29). Glendon’s appearance on the river first provides an attempt at a mental escape from the failure of the Dan Roscoe story, and his later acquaintance with Monte allows from a physical escape.

    I’m curious what you all thing about the relationship between art & money. All three of the artists described earn money for their art, yet it seems like the discussion between Monte and Glendon on p. 26 seems to set up two different “camps.” Monte seems more focused on the monetary reward for a work, and recommends that Glendon charge more money for the boat. Glendon’s only answer is to remark on the beauty of the copper, which leads Monte’s narration to focus on the pleasure Glendon received from making the decorative copper inlays. Does part of Monte’s difficulty as a writer stem from his motivation being bound up in what Grace Hackle and the publishing company would accept rather than from a delight in the story itself?

  42. Matthew Benefiel

    The river could be a picture of life, or that path of life. Glendon goes through life standing up in a care free manner in a simple but beautiful boat that he crafted; while Monte goes through life in a rickety old thing be bought that he has to constantly bail wishing for something more graceful, but happy to be on the river either way, yet yearning for more. Both are called to the river, to travel it; one has a past that he seems to learning from while the other has a past he is trying to escape.

  43. Matthew Benefiel

    Sorry, me again. I listened to the podcast, it’s good (especially the part about the lumber yard hating Pete). It made me think once again of the Wizard of Earthsea (sorry to bring it up again) where Ged had a boat that is only driftwood and magic to hold it together. You get the idea that he could turn it into a boat, but instead gets an old rickety boat and painstakingly strips it down and puts it back together and it becomes a faithful boat, one that does not require magic but can float on its own (though he did use a few looking spells and water spells to help keep it sound, much like the fiber glass lining I suppose). Goes to show you there are no short cuts in life, only through hard work and labor do we arrive where we need to be, physically and spiritually.

    Also it seems to me that names and boats have something in common. Neither have value in and of themselves. A name that falls on deaf ears is useless and a boat unused is equally so. The objects themselves don’t give the value, but the lives of those that crafted, built, and use them is what defines them. To show my Star Wars side the Millennium Falcon was really just a hunk of junk, but there was so much modifications and frayed wires put into the thing that made it the fastest one in the galaxy that gave it and its name their meaning and legacy.

  44. Brenda Branson

    Grace Hackle–I found the combination of those names quite funny. Hackle has several meanings–one is the long plumage of certain birds, but the one which was more familiar to me was “anger.” Grace and anger. Hmmm.

  45. Nathan

    I was thinking another thing about the river. The Wendell Berry bit sparked a memory I have about his description of the river in Jayber Crow. I’ll have to look it up, but I remember it was what sold me on his writing.

    Could some of the musicians/novelists/people whose art involves a large initial output speak to Monte’s difficulty? I think I have heard it said that you have your whole life to write your first album/novel. Then, you have this pressure to replicate it or make another. What is it like to do that first thing, and then think about another?

  46. Jennifer K.

    Really enjoying all these comments and insights that I missed on first reading.

    Thanks, Matthew, for the Chesterton reference…I’m a fan of him and his “re-discovery of England” analogy mirrors my own journey to God.

    Brenda, thanks for mentioning the importance of the name in scripture…I had thought of this, but you put it much better than I would have.

    I, too, have had my vocabulary enlarged in reading this book, and had to allow Webster to fill in the gaps. For example, I had seen the word “insouciant” before but could not remember what it meant. Now that I know, I wish I had the confidence, both personally and literarily, to be just a bit insouciant. I love words..having a new word is like having a new hue of paint to put on the canvas.

  47. redheadkate

    Back to Julie’s question about the role of the river…I’m reading the assigned chapters each week so I can experience the discussion as we go along. So here is my guess.

    From page 16, “The water moves regardless – for all it cares, you might be a minnow or a tadpole, a turtle on a beavered log. You might be nothing at all.”

    A river imparts its will. You go where it goes. Not like riding a horse (since we are in 1915), where the rider is in charge. When on a river, there is a sense of losing control. Of it being bigger than you.

  48. April Pickle

    Well, I was trying to restrain my passion for the river, but Kate’s comment gave me misty eyes. Ahhhh, the river! I’ve only read part one as well, so I am glad to hear, Julie, that the river plays a role. When my life was changed by the Flannery O’Connor summer reading club, it was because of the story “The River.” It’s why I adore Rebecca Reynolds, and it’s also why the background on my phone is a photo of the Cumberland River I took in Nashville last fall while on the Music City Bikeway. Can’t wait to read the rest of the book!

  49. Loren Warnemuende

    What a great discussion. I had hoped to jump in Monday, but got delayed, and was almost overwhelmed when I saw all the comments today. But they were well worth reading through, because I picked up an awful lot I’d missed on one read-through.

    He power of names is significant to me and I thought the was an interesting play (my first thought was “Rumpelstiltskin”, too. My husband and I chose our kids’ names very deliberately, and when I pray with them at night I often use the meanings of their names as part of the prayer as to how I hope they will let God use them. It’s been interesting to watch them grow and see how they live out their names…which came first, though? The meaning or the character of the child? That I couldn’t tell you!

    Mark Geil, I’m glad you mentioned Ron Block’s article about the power of names. I just read that last week as was struck by it. In fact, that night I had a dream that a Chinese friend of mine changed her English name because she wanted one that was more Biblically-based. I told my friend about it the next day and she took my off-handed “Guess what I dreamed,” comment rather seriously, wondering of maybe God was saying something. I’m kind of hoping she doesn’t change her name as it would be rather confusing!

    I loved the curving line quote, and the characterizations. I just read another book that struck me as having rather stylized characters, and reading Enger’s made me want to do a study on what makes a character live or not. I hope that the characters in my stories live, and I feel like I need to look into the trick of it. In some books they do, on some they just don’t.

    One thing, though, that did bug me a bit, and Matt Wood alluded to it in his comments in #16, was Susannah. I mean, it wasn’t so much her–I liked her immensely. Perhaps it was how Monte spoke of her so highly, and how she responded to him. She seemed so patient, and so perfect and understanding. When he finally confesses that he hasn’t succeeded in writing she gives him complete grace. She defends him in not anything him to go back to his old job and gracefully opens the door for him to go to Mexico. I suppose the grace is the sticking point for me here. Is it realistic? Is it meant to be? Is it meant to be an example of true love and grace? Or did Enger just need to get his man Monte on the river for the rest of the story without a home conflict? What do you guys think?

  50. Matthew Benefiel

    Loran, your last question is an excellent one! As many of us writers here know sometimes we do have to make something almost too perfect in order to get the story going, so Enger could have done as you said seeing a home conflict too much to tackle, of course I haven’t read far enough yet to know otherwise. On the other hand I think it can be very realistic. We all know we fall far from grace, myself the worst I would argue, but how many times especially as in marriage to we apply our own thoughts and fears to our spouse?
    I do it all the time. Even on small matters I think, “What will Betsy think?” “She will laugh at me” or even “she will think less of me.” Finally I work up the courage to tell her and she shows me a grace that unravels my overcomplicated thoughts. Like Monte I allow my own pride and self worth to complicate my personal struggle and instead of sharing with my help meet, I close up. God doesn’t want us that way and when we live in humility working together He is faithful to show us grace.
    It will be interesting to see where Enger takes Susannah and if he intended her to be a picture of grace or if perhaps that piece fell into place unknowingly (that happens too).

  51. Julie Silander

    Loren raises a good question –

    What do you think about Susannah? The men seem to be complex characters, and Susannah feels “flat” to me. Do you think that’s intentional? Do you find their relationship is believable?

  52. Loren Warnemuende

    Julie, my first reaction is that Monte and Susannah’s relationship is too nice to be true. I have a loving, solid marriage, and I know Kraig and I don’t always interact with each other the way Susannah interacts with Monte.

    Matthew, you brought out a good reminder, though, that many times our spouses respond with more grace than we expect. That’s so true of Kraig (and I hope sometimes me!). I’ll be so concerned about telling him something, but his response is more likely to e one of understanding than not. He also is my primary encourager and challenger to do things On which I might hold back. And I have no question that we are a safe place for each other. If things are against us, we’re united.

    I guess we’ll have to see how things are carried out!

  53. Sofia

    I agree with you, Julie & Loren. If her “flatness” is intentional, it feels like either she’s a fairly obvious symbol (which doesn’t quite seem to fit with the way the rest of this section flows) or perhaps the way her character is presented is due to the narrator, Monte. Are we getting an accurate portrayal of her, or is what we read colored by/translated through Monte’s perceptions? Just some speculation on my part. As Loren said, we’ll have to see.

  54. Chinwe

    Interesting conversation about Susannah. She does seem almost angelic. However, I appreciated the fact that she asks Monte to leave her for a while, after he tells her of his failed novel. We obviously don’t know how exactly she processes the news but I think we can assume that she has some difficulty receiving it. That’s a very human moment there from her. She doesn’t immediately accept the news and lavish Monte with grace. She needs some time. Yes, she eventually responds with grace but I’d like to think that it’s not easily arrived at.

  55. Nathan

    J, L, and S…I agree. Something about Susanna can seem flat, because if I were in her shoes, I would be panicky and prone to fits. I always assumed that Enger was developing their relationship that way to emphasize the stagnation that Monte feels. He is awfully fond of the river, which is moving and living and making “progress”, even though his own life is at a kind of standstill. Do you think he’s saying something about the kind of woman she is? She is resilient and calm, she doesn’t show her worry very much, if she is worried, about his failures to write. Maybe another possibility is that she is a picture of Mrs. Enger. I would say Monte is autobiographical to a degree…after all, Peace Like a River was so successful. I’m sure getting #2 off the ground was a challenge. Perhaps he is nodding to the staying power and resolve that it takes to be married to a creative type whose livelihood stands in the balance.

  56. sofia

    Nathan, I think you might be on to something with that last observation. For some reason, I flipped to the acknowledgements at the end of the book and this phrase, which I assumed to be addressed to his wife, stood out to me: “Finally, thanks to Robin, for hearing my pages with persistent grace. Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity and a refusal to panic.”

  57. Chris

    Was anyone else struck by the line on page 18: “When we finished my forearms were covered in shavings and I felt the weariness of a better man.”? It’s been interesting, the contrast that Enger has been setting up between artistic labor (or at least one kind) and manual labor, although in another way they are both art, except one is true and the other has been false in some way. If that makes sense.

  58. Matt Wood

    I think Sophia makes an interesting point that we are seeing Susannah through the eyes of Monte. She is the one person that Monte knows he should be open and honest with, and yet he has failed to do so until the end of this section. Because of this, she has become a flat character to him. This is one of the ways that our sin works through guilt and shame. We begin to see the people around us as “straight lines” that have no faults. We feel that we cannot share our faults because they will not understand or they will (righteously) only judge us. We forget that they are sinners too. We forget that they know the grace that we need through experience, and will often extend it when we give them the chance. Sadly, this tactic of sin is often effective in ruining marriages or at least sending them painful detours.

    Lord, give us marriages and friendships full of confession and grace!

  59. Dan R.

    Chris: Yeah, I’ve sort of been picking up on that conflict developing beneath the surface too. I don’t have my book with me right now, but I feel like there have been a lot of places thus far where this issue has arisen. Having rather limited personal experience of this kind of “artistic labor” I haven’t really been able to get any sort of message out of this aspect of the story just yet, but I’m going to have to remember to keep an eye on it as the plot progresses, as it seems like, at least for the characters, this might end up being a big deal.

  60. Carrie

    I have to agree that Susannah is likeable but perhaps too perfect. I think, though, that there may be depths to her we haven’t plumbed yet. Think of how she painted the daffodils with blue and violet and spicy russet as well as the yellow and orange. If Enger spends much more time with her, I think he has to flesh her out further – and show her in her various shades.

    The two lines you quote, Julie (power of a name and lines getting grace when they’re curved) were the two that stood out to me from the section, too.

    Rumpelstiltskin was my first thought with the names line, but I feel like there’s another story I’ve read that is even more vivid in that idea the power of a name…it may be the theme in the 100 Cupboards Series that Abby already mentioned. Darius sought the power that would come from “naming” Henry himself.

    I’ve been thinking on lines a lot recently – straight, curved, angled, crooked – I’ve got a post going up at *The Curator* soon that is exploring lines in art – God’s creation, His art, rarely has straight lines and measured curves, yet we fallen humans seek them as an ideal of beauty. Perhaps the idea of “getting grace when it curves” flows with my ponderings on the subject. Perfection doesn’t need grace. Grace is poured out on the imperfect lines. And somehow, we live in this tension – knowing that straight and perfect is an ideal, but living out beautiful art in angles and unmeasured curves in our daily lives.

  61. Julie Silander

    Sofia – Great thought. Now I see dual TV screens – On the right, what Monte hears from his wife. On the left, what she actually said (or felt). Perspective is everything. To some degree, we all see what we want to.

    And for now, we all know (or see) only in part…

    Has anyone read “The Trunk” by Elizabeth Coatsworth? A woman follows her artist husband into the jungle as he pursues his work. The book explores not only the complexities of marriage (in particular marriage to an artist), but also the way in which our skewed vision misshapes what we think to be objective reality. Well worth a read.

  62. Lisa

    Wow, you guys are getting some good stuff here!

    One more thought on Susannah. I know what you mean about her seeming to “perfect”, but I was okay with that. Sometimes as a writer I want to be truthful and show life like it “is” and sometimes there is something to be said for showing life as it “could be”. But it’s very difficult to do the latter and not come across like you are on a soapbox. Susannah’s response to Monte’s revelation made me, as a wife, long to have that kind of calm grace-full attitude. I didn’t dismiss it as a Christian trope, which is how that exchange could have come across in the hands of a lesser writer. That Enger can do that kind of writing so well is one of the many reasons he is one of my favourite authors.

  63. Laura Peterson

    Wow, great conversation, everyone! Some comments as I’m following along:

    @Brenda: I’m so glad someone else caught the quick little summary of “Peace Like a River” on page 14! That made me smile.

    @Abby: Love the poem. It’s funny that people mentioned Anne of Green Gables in comments following that. I’m re-reading it now and in the last chapters especially there are several remarks about “bends in the road.” I’m a self-described change-hater, so it’s difficult for me to think of bends or curves in an otherwise straight plan as a good thing…but I like where Glendon’s going with this idea that it’s in the curves or unexpected places where grace comes in to play.

    @Mark Geil: Yep, I too have wondered if Monte’s path as a successful first-time novelist and struggles in writing a second “hit” is a wee bit autobiographical. Although I imagine it would be hard to write about a writer and not have your own story creep in a bit….but I’ve never tried it. Has anyone else? I’m curious.

    @Julie S: (Thanks for setting up this chat! Loving it!) Yes, everyone should go immediately to the podcast page and listen to Pete reading “The Art of Work.” It’s completely great.

    @Chris: Wow, I didn’t even notice that contrast between manual vs. artistic labor. So glad you brought that up, I’ll have to think on it. Maybe Monte would feel differently about his artistic labor if he felt it was bearing fruit?

    My favorite moment: our four characters sitting around the dinner table for the first time, listening to Glendon. “He gave his story in bright shards.” I mean, really. What a sentence!!!

  64. Tony Heringer

    I meant to get here sooner but work week was busy. Thanks again for hosting. Here’s my two cents.

    1. What do you think he means? Naming is a powerful thing, but just to know someone’s name? I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. What other stories come to mind? The first one is the Gospel. But, others come to mind where the identity is behind a mask or appearance (Clark Kent/Superman).

    2. Do you think it’s significant that we learn the narrator’s name only after this conversation takes place? Yes, but I hadn’t considered it. What other passages refer to the importance of name? Since, I wasn’t dialed into that theme, I don’t recall but I was struck by the names of the characters. I started this book while still in the midst of Peace Like A River. He has a knack for names.

    3. What themes do you see being introduced? Search for significance or at least a vocation. I thought the reference to Peace Like A River as a storyline a nice touch in showing his frustration with finding a workable story.

    A line only gets grace when it curves, you know. –p.19

    4. What images/stories does this bring to mind? First thought was fireworks. A line of light and then streams of awesome color.

    5. What does this tell us about Glendon? He’s lived through something that taught him about grace. What insight do we get from Becket’s response? He doesn’t really react to it but seems to enjoy the work including the meager bread they eat afterwards. He’s drawn to the mystery of this character.

    Now I will enjoy reading back over the rest of the feedback and try and catch up for next week.

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