I'm not going to beat around the proverbial bush here, people. I loved The Enchanted, by Rene Denfeld, just as much as everyone else seems to.
"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.
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. --Modified from Goodreads
Sorry I had to yank the description from elsewhere, but this book is so odd and hard to describe. Denfeld's prose is lilting and imaginative, full of striking imagery and brutality. It doesn't seem like it would all go together, but it does. The story is one inmate's method of coping with his eventual death and the absolutely squalid and savage conditions on death row. His mind is filled with beauty and escape because he has books and the memory of stories to balance the memory of his own mistakes.
Denfeld has a remarkable way of making so many of the death row characters sympathetic, despite their horrific actions. As I was reading and piecing together various characters' experiences, I did think to myself, "Wow, these are all really similar. Like, lazy-writing similar?" However, upon completion, the similarity in various characters' backstories makes a striking point: whether you're on the outside or the inside of prison walls or on the good or bad side of the law, there is really very little difference in the "good guys" and the "bad guys." It's all about what one does with the negative experiences that dictates where one falls.
Remarkable book, maybe my favorite of 2014.
Pub. Date: March 2014
Source: Passed along from a friend. But who was it? GAH!