Summary and book reviews of Enon by Paul Harding

Enon
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2014, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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Book Summary

A stunning mosaic of human experience, Enon affirms Paul Harding as one of the most gifted and profound writers of his generation.

Hailed as "a masterpiece" (NPR), Tinkers, Paul Harding's Pulitzer Prize–winning debut, is a modern classic. The Dallas Morning News observed that "like Faulkner, Harding never shies away from describing what seems impossible to put into words." Here, in Enon, Harding follows a year in the life of Charlie Crosby as he tries to come to terms with a shattering personal tragedy. Grandson of George Crosby (the protagonist of Tinkers), Charlie inhabits the same dynamic landscape of New England, its seasons mirroring his turbulent emotional odyssey. Along the way, Charlie's encounters are brought to life by his wit, his insights into history, and his yearning to understand the big questions.

A stunning mosaic of human experience, Enon affirms Paul Harding as one of the most gifted and profound writers of his generation.

1.

Most men in my family make widows of their wives and orphans of their children. I am the exception. My only child, Kate, was struck and killed by a car while riding her bicycle home from the beach one afternoon in September, a year ago. She was thirteen. My wife, Susan, and I separated soon afterward.

I was walking in the woods when Kate died. I'd asked her the day before if she wanted to pack a lunch and go to the Enon River to hike around and feed the birds and maybe rent a canoe. The birds were tame and ate seeds from people's hands. From the first time I'd taken her she'd been enchanted with the chickadees and titmice and nuthatches that pecked seeds from her palm, and when she was younger she'd treated feeding the birds as if they depended on it.

Kate said going to the sanctuary sounded great, but she and her friend Carrie Lewis had made plans to go to the beach, and could she go if she was super careful.

"Especially around the lake, and the shore...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Enon begins with Kate's death. Why do you think Paul Harding put her death up front? How did facing her death on the first page affect your reading of the novel and your expectations for the plot?
  2. Much of the story involves Charlie's family history and connections to the past, but without Kate and Susan, Charlie is the last Crosby in Enon: "My whole family made a circumference of ghosts, with me the sole living member in the middle." How does this fact add to and change how he mourns his daughter?
  3. What role has the town of Enon itself played in Charlie's life? How does the place contain and amplify his grief?
  4. As Charlie spirals deeper into his despair and into addiction, he feels shame for what he has become and how his ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While the construct of Enon and the progression of the plot feel artificial in many places, once Harding finds his way into his long, introspective, almost mythical passages, his writing – particularly about death – is gorgeous. He has a unique talent for blurring the lines between the present and the past without slipping into the world of the bizarre, and Charlie’s sad, imaginative, wandering mind is something to savor.   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

Full Review Members Only (682 words).

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

Enon is Joan Didion’s Blue Nights on major meds. . . . Time was the subject of Tinkers as grief is the subject of Enon. The two are related, like father and sons. Read Enon to live longer in the harsh, gorgeous atmosphere that Paul Harding has created

The New Yorker

An extraordinary follow-up to the author’s Pulitzer Prize–winning debut . . . Harding’s subject is consciousness rooted in a contemporary moment but bound to a Puritan past. His prose is steeped in a visionary, transcendentalist tradition that echoes Blake, Rilke, Emerson, and Thoreau, and makes for a darkly intoxicating read.

New York Daily News

Paul Harding’s excellent second novel . . . is a lovely book about grief, the ways in which we punish ourselves for feeling it, and, ultimately, how we rebuild our lives even when they seem unsalvageable.

The Wall Street Journal

Without blurring the sharply lucid nightmares and recollections, Mr. Harding pushes Charlie’s madness to a crisis point of destruction or renewal. The journey to the depths of his grief is unforgettably stark and sad. But that sadness, shaped by a gifted writer’s caressing attention, can also bring about moments of what Charlie calls ‘brokenhearted joy.’

The Chicago Tribune

Harding conveys the common but powerful bond of parental love with devastating accuracy. . . . Enon confirms what the Pulitzer jury decided: Paul Harding—no longer a ‘find’—is a major voice in American fiction.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Enon is] an elegiac portrait of a severed family and the town of Enon itself, and Harding again proves himself a contemporary master and one of our most important writers

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Beautifully turned: Harding has defogged his style a bit and gained a stronger emotional impact from it.

Booklist

Starred Review. Harding's mythic sensibility, soaring empathy for his devastated yet life-loving protagonist, comedic embrace of the absurd, and exquisite receptivity to the beauty and treachery of the living world make for one astonishingly daring, gripping, and darkly resplendent novel of all-out grief and crawling-from-the-ruins survival.

Library Journal

Starred Review. With crisp, descriptive language, Harding continues where his previous novel left off, exploring the complexity of family and mortality."

The Financial Times

Harding is an extraordinary writer, for the intoxicating power of his prose, the range of his imagination, and above all for the redemptive humanity of his vision. With painstaking brilliance, Enon charts one man’s attempt to salvage meaning from meaningless tragedy, to endure the ubiquitous presence of a loved one’s absence. A superb account of the banality and uniqueness of bereavement, it more than earns its place alongside such non-fictional classics as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed. That Enon is a work of fiction that feels authentic as memoir makes it all the more astonishing.

Reader Reviews

Kathy

Sad, sad story
What a sad, sad book. Having lost a much older child in a tragic accident, I could identify with Charlie’s loss, pain, and lack of will to continue living. However, unlike Charlie, I had the love and support of my husband, other children, family, ...   Read More

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The Wonderful World of Fictional Settings

In Enon (as in his 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tinkers), Paul Harding constructs and describes the fictional New England town of Enon, complete with a chronicling of its multi-generational history, descriptions of its homes, woods and native plants, and stories of those buried in its cemetery.

Generally speaking, the setting of a story helps locate the culture, mindset, and mood of a book; it guides readers' emotions, allows them to form expectations for characters' behaviors, identifies whether they fit in, and places them in time and space. When writers create fictional settings – whether made-up towns in familiar places, or fantastical worlds we never dreamed possible – they have the ability to manipulate everything ...

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