Book Talk: Oregon writer finds beauty, redemption on death row

Thu May 15, 2014 5:06am EDT
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By Fiona Ortiz

(Reuters) - Non-fiction writer Rene Denfeld draws on her work as a death penalty investigator in her first novel, "The Enchanted", the story of a prisoner who invents a horrible, liberating beauty deep underground.

Although he doesn't even have a window in his cell, the first-person narrator imagines life on the outside, especially that of a character known as "the lady" who works to redeem death-row prisoners, much as Denfeld does in real life.

In the end all of the characters in "The Enchanted" turn out to be prisoners in one way or another. Perhaps the freest of all is the walled-in narrator, whose disturbed fantasy life leads to a poetic sort of justice.

As a licensed investigator since 2008 Denfeld has interviewed prisoners, on and off death row, and traveled to "the worst parts of the country and the worst streets and homes" to find friends, relatives and teachers who might help her clients avoid or overturn a death sentence.

"The Enchanted" comes after Denfeld's non-fiction books including "The New Victorians", about victimism in the women's movement, and female aggression and violence in "Kill the Body, the Head Will Fall".

Denfeld, from Portland, Oregon, lived on the streets when she was 15, sang in local punk bands, worked as a bartender and journalist, has done amateur boxing and is a mother to three children she adopted from foster care.

Denfeld spoke to Reuters by phone from her home in Portland, about her new book, released in March by HarperCollins.