RR 2017 THE ENCHANTED: Discussion Points

Discussion Points for The Enchanted

The Author’s Craft

  • How does the title set the tone for the book? How does it relate to the story told?
  • What are the multiple meanings of the title?
  • How does the author, Rene Denfeld, initially inform the reader about the setting of the narrative?
  • The opening scene offers a view into the intent and urgency of the narrator and his story. In these first pages of the novel, how does the narrator introduce the story and the other characters?
  • There are many dichotomies established in the beginning of the novel such as truth and lies, light and dark. How do these play out through the course of the narrative?
  • The narration of the novel is written in a first-person omniscient voice. How would the narration, or even the novel, have been different if the narration was from the perspective of someone who was not omniscient? Or if it was written in past tense instead of present tense?
  • How would the novel have been different if the story had been told by the death row investigator or the prison warden, for example?
  • How are the personalities and histories of the various characters revealed through small details?
  • Discuss the changes in point of view and how they affect the reader.
  • How does the author balance the narrator’s personal story with the more expansive story of “the lady’s” investigation or the experience of the other characters in the novel?
  • The narrator says the investigator (“the lady”) is “a gift.” Discuss what gifts the lady offers the other characters and how her gifts are received by them.
  • How does the author humanize her characters?
  • Discuss how the writing is imagistic or visual. In what ways is it cinematic?
  • Discuss the author’s writing style, including sentence structure, diction, tone, setting, narrative structure, and use of imagery and figurative language such as metaphors.
  • Discuss the overall structure of the novel. How does it work?
  • What portions or aspects of the writing did you find most artful and/or enjoyable to read?
  • How does the author use symbol and especially myth in the narrative?
  • Most characters are referred to by their positions only (there is the warden and the fallen priest and the death row investigator is “the lady”). What is the effect on the reader of only the prisoners having proper names?

Characters and Motivation

  • The narrator sets himself apart in the first two sentences of the novel. How does he continue to do this throughout the narrative?
  • Discuss the challenges that the main characters are already coping with before the novel begins.
  • What do we learn about the other main characters, as well as the narrator himself, through the narrator’s observations?
  • How are secrets kept by the novel’s characters?
  • How is the issue of survival characterized and approached in terms of each character’s situation and actions, both in their personal past and in the present of the novel?
  • Explore the poetic nature of the book’s narration. What are the most striking observations the narrator makes?
  • Discuss the sensual nature of the narrator’s approach to his living conditions.
  • How does imagination function as a survival mechanism for the narrator?
  • How is the lady’s childhood revealed throughout the novel? How does her history affect how she approaches her job, and the various people she works with?
  • What draws the investigator and the fallen priest together?
  • How do the different characters look differently at the workings of “fate” and of their own actions in forming their own futures?
  • How does each of the main characters change over the course of the novel? What lessons do they learn? How do they reconsider their lives, their choices, their conception of culpability, their thoughts about their future? Track their emotional and psychological shifts.
  • What do you admire or dislike about each character? Does this opinion change over the course of the novel?
  • Although they have similar backgrounds, how do the investigator and York end up in such different situations?
  • Who is the most free of all the novel’s characters?

Issues and Themes

  • The novel’s narrator is mute, having not spoken since childhood. What does this tell us about his character and about the power of voice in general?
  • Along with being heard, many characters in the novel long to be seen by others. What does this mean and how does this desire play out for different characters?
  • What different kinds of friendships and familial relationships are evident?
  • How are class differences portrayed? How do the complicated issues surrounding race and class affect trust and other aspects of the characters’ relationships?
  • How are the complications of family relationships depicted? How do they change over time, according to the stories that are revealed?
  • There are characters and situations related to mental health issues throughout the novel (in both the pasts of some characters as well as in their present). How are the experience of and treatment of those who are mentally challenged depicted?
  • How are the violent and corrupt elements of the prison world that are explicitly detailed in the novel important for the reader’s understanding of the setting and the actions of the characters who exist within it?
  • How does the book differ from other prison narratives with which you are familiar?
  • What are the different elements of magic thinking within the novel? When do those elements appear? Is this evidenced on both sides of the prison wall? How do each function for the narrator, and for the reader?
  • How does a sense of place come into play in different ways in the novel?
  • How do her forays into the countryside affect the investigator?
  • How is the element of discovery revealed through her character?
  • Discuss how the investigator is able to make connections between her own life and that of at least one of her clients.
  • How are the ideas of tension and balance conveyed in the novel, from plot points to characters to narrative details?
  • How are different gifts given (and received) over the course of the novel, both in the flashbacks and in the present?
  • What role do feelings of guilt and shame play in the novel?
  • Discuss how the following play out in the novel and how each affects the characters of the story: friendship, lies, loneliness, desire, religion/faith, resiliency, hope, sacrifice, redemption.
  • How are different manners of death approached by the different parties involved?
  • Trace the various connections shared by numerous characters who otherwise exist in very different places in the world.
  • How are secrets kept and secrets revealed?
  • Discuss the cycles of violence and abuse that the novel explores.
  • How does the author trace the changes in the prison environment/system over decades?
  • The narrator values reading, referring to the “precious stories” that take shape in books and to the prison library as his “sanctuary.” What does the novel tell us about the importance of books, of reading, and of storytelling?
  • What role does the setting of the prison near a beautiful rural area play? What does the novel tell us about the people and society of that time and place?
  • What is the effect on you as a reader learning toward the end that the narrator is the prisoner who has been singled out as having committed the most heinous crime of all?
  • What is the significance of the narrator at the end of the book referring to “[T]his enchanted place. This enchanted world”? What does it say about the novel as a whole and about the author’s style of storytelling?
  • How are death and dying portrayed?
  • What is the significance of the book ending with another death?
  • Is the story ultimately tragic? Why or why not?
  • What social commentary does the author offer?
  • How does the author dispel possible stereotypes about several of the novel’s characters?
  • Narratives such as this ask readers to gain insight into and empathize with characters who might on the surface seem very unlike us; indeed part of the pleasure we get derives from feeling that we are getting inside others’ heads and lives and are satisfying our own curiosity. Therefore it is pertinent to ask: How do these characters show curiosity about, insight into, or empathy for other characters? Where is lack of such traits an issue?
  • The novel is rife with examples of empathy. Discuss how empathy functions in the narrative between and among different characters.
  • The novel, although it addresses a contentious issue in our culture, is not political. How does the author manage this feat?
  • What have you learned by reading The Enchanted?
  • Have you read any other books that concern the death penalty (such as our first Rochester Reads title, Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying)? What differences do you see in the authors’ approaches? How do you account for those differences?

Speculative Questions for Discussion or Writing

  • What do you think the author’s motivations were in writing this novel?
  • Do you relate more to the civilians or the narrator? Why?
  • Did the novel make you look at or feel differently about those who have been convicted of crimes?
  • How do stories function in a society and for the individual? What are the purposes of telling and retelling stories to ourselves and to others?

Related Writing Projects

  • What would you do in the lady’s situation, knowing that York might be considered innocent by guilty of insanity? If he could, what letter would she write to the judge? What letter would York write after he decided to die?
  • Write a few entries in a reflective journal by the lady.
  • Write what happens after the end of the novel with some or all of the remaining characters.
Comments are closed.