Rene Denfield's debut novel, The Enchanted, offers a fresh approach to the crime novel: though the story is heavy with criminals, it is never clear what crimes they may have committed. Rather than focusing on what led her characters to prison, Denfield tells the story of the prison itself--and the lives of the death row inmates in this corrupted place.
We meet "the priest," a fallen cleric who works with the inmates on a spiritual level, and "the lady," an investigator hired by lawyers to aid the appeals of their death-row clients. "The warden" goes home every night to his wife, who is dying of cancer. "The guard" earns a small fortune smuggling contraband into the prison, while "the boy" finds himself offered to the meanest of inmates as a prize for cooperation in the guard's scheme. Meanwhile, the inmates all suffer in their own ways in their lonely cells.
Each character's perspective contributes to the multifaceted life of the prison, which one inmate believes to be enchanted. Their experiences with different aspects of the prison building--the interview room, the cells, the yard, the crematorium--reveal the seedy underbelly of prison life. The result is heartbreaking yet captivating, a study of one of the darkest places in our society--a place that, despite the despair, is always tinged with hope.
The Enchanted | Rene Denfeld | Harper | Hardcover | February 2014