The Enchanted, Rene Denfeld, HarperCollins, 2014, 233 pp
One of the best books I have read this year. No matter what your views on capital punishment and the death penalty, it will make you rethink everything. Even if you come through with the same views, you may find yourself examining those views more deeply than you ever have before.
The novel is told partly from the POV of a male prisoner on death row in an old rundown prison somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He is considered the worst criminal there even by the other prisoners. You learn his life history.
On the other side of the story is "the Lady." She works for a group of lawyers who try to get the death penalty changed to life imprisonment or to get retrials for inmates who are possibly wrongly convicted. By means of close third person, you get to know this woman and how she came to be doing such work.
A fallen priest, assigned to be prison chaplain to atone for his misdeeds, and prison employees both honest and corrupt round out the main characters.
What comes to light are the dangerous and foul conditions of prison life, the virtual impossibility of any rehabilitation taking place, and the ways prisoners cope. Most disturbing for me were the tales about how some of the prisoners were actually made into psychopaths by the miserable circumstances of their lives starting in childhood. The Lady had just as miserable a life but managed to keep some semblance of sanity as well as a huge amount of empathy. The ending is somewhat happy but I worried about that the whole time I was reading.
Rene Denfeld is herself a death penalty investigator with an almost terrifying imagination. This is her first novel. Our reading group had one of our best discussions ever.
(The Enchanted is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)