Land of Enchantment (Hardcover)
When I saw Leigh Stein speak at the Association of Writers Conference in LA back in March, she gave some of the best, most succinct writing advice I heard in those jam-packed four days. “Write your obsession,” she told us, and went on to describe the way she came to write her memoir: she was so obsessed with the wild time she spent in New Mexico with her late ex-boyfriend, that she was constantly inventing ways to send characters in her other writings to the Land of Enchantment. She needed to write this book before she could write any others. The way she described her book was so fascinating that she passed her obsession on to me, and I began the hunt to find and read her memoir, which I now highly recommend to you.
-Recommended by Jamie
This is a true story: They meet at an audition for a tragedy, and their lives spin together before spiraling apart. Then, Jason is killed in a motorcycle accident, and Leigh is left to mourn and come to terms with memories of him, particularly of a period of several months they spent together in New Mexico. Their relationship and the scars he leaves behind are as violent as the crash that takes his life, and through her memoir, Leigh Stein weaves this damaging, but redeeming, experience into the fabric of her story to understand its place in a greater narrative.
When I first heard Leigh Stein speak about her memoir, “Land of Enchantment,” I was at a writing conference in Los Angeles, and she shared the panel with bestselling author Cheryl Strayed. Through the course of the conference, I received many bits of interesting writing advice, but Stein’s was the most pertinent succinct: “Write your obsession.”
She went on to describe that she had tried to write other stories but found she was constantly plotting ways to send her characters to New Mexico. She needed to grapple with the time she spent there, a place expanded by her imagination. In turn,
Though admittedly young to write a memoir, Stein looks back on a younger version of herself and treats the person she once was with understanding and tenderness. She shows a girl becoming a woman through the transformative experience of entangling, then disentangling, herself from the dominating personality of a boy out of control.
The writing in this book is by no means perfect; Stein often lapses into a telling-rather-than-showing recounting of events. I also couldn’t help wondering what this book would look like through different perspectives of time, perhaps 10, 20 or even 30 years. Her closeness to these events, however, is how she creates the intensity, so there is value in the short view.
The memoir is ultimately not about Jason or Leigh, but rather about the way land takes possession of memory. Though her dreams about New Mexico began as hope for a new beginning, the dingy apartment and highway diner where Leigh lives and works reveal a place deeply rooted in an unwanted reality.
This Land of Enchantment becomes a place of disillusionment and harsh realizations for the young author, but it also becomes a place she can possess her memory as her own — disassociated with Jason and his control and manipulation — and proof of her independence and ability to survive.
This is a story about complex relationships — both to a place and a human — she both loves and fears. The landscape of love, like this memoir, is a place both flawed and beautiful.— From Book review: Memoir both flawed and beautiful
"[A] thoughtful and compelling elegy to a troubled man, a broken love, and a broken dream of the west."—Leslie Jamison, New York Times bestselling author of The Empathy Exams
An MSN Best Book of 2016
Set against the stark and surreal landscape of New Mexico, Land of Enchantment is a coming-of-age memoir about young love, obsession, and loss, and how a person can imprint a place in your mind forever.
When Leigh Stein received a call from an unknown number in July 2011, she let it go to voice mail, assuming it would be her ex-boyfriend Jason. Instead, the call was from his brother: Jason had been killed in a motorcycle accident. He was twenty-three years old. She had seen him alive just a few weeks earlier.
Leigh first met Jason at an audition for a tragic play. He was nineteen and troubled and intensely magnetic, a dead ringer for James Dean. Leigh was twenty-two and living at home with her parents, trying to figure out what to do with her young adult life. Within months, they had fallen in love and moved to New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment,” a place neither of them had ever been. But what was supposed to be a romantic adventure quickly turned sinister, as Jason’s behavior went from playful and spontaneous to controlling and erratic, eventually escalating to violence. Now New Mexico was marked by isolation and the anxiety of how to leave a man she both loved and feared. Even once Leigh moved on to New York, throwing herself into her work, Jason and their time together haunted her.
Land of Enchantment lyrically explores the heartbreaking complexity of why the person hurting you the most can be impossible to leave. With searing honesty and cutting humor, Leigh wrestles with what made her fall in love with someone so destructive and how to grieve a man who wasn’t always good to her.
About the Author
Leigh Stein is the author of the novel The Fallback Plan, which made the “highbrow brilliant” quadrant of New York’s “Approval Matrix,” as well as a collection of poetry, Dispatch from the Future, selected for Publishers Weekly’s Best Summer Books of 2012 list, in addition to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club. Her nonfiction has appeared in Allure, BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Hairpin, The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Slate, The Toast, and xoJane. Formerly an editorial staff member at The New Yorker, she currently lives outside New York City and codirects the nonprofit organization Out of the Binders, which advances the careers of women and gender-nonconforming writers through conferences called BinderCon. For her advocacy work, she has been called a “leading feminist” by The Washington Post, and honored as a “woman of influence” by New York Business Journal.
"Leigh Stein’s Land of Enchantment is a thoughtful and compelling elegy to a troubled man, a broken love, and a broken dream of the west. It’s about loss, wonder, and the vexed grip of attachment. It grieves by way of admitting complexity—by answering the late-night knock of unfinished business—and its spell is immersive: Once I’d picked it up, I did not set it down again until I’d finished it."
– Leslie Jamison, New York Times bestselling author of The Empathy Exams
"One of the most compelling memoirs I've ever read. A mesmerizing requiem on loss and love, Stein's intelligent ode to adolescent obsession is unflinching in its honest portrayal of what it means to give ourselves over to the dark side of love. This is a glittering gem of a book."
– Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance
“A brave and poignant coming-of-age story.”
– Publishers Weekly
“A propulsive and haunting memoir… Stein’s poignant, virtuosic Land of Enchantment should be de rigeur summer reading.”
–The Huffington Post
“Artful…Stein's compelling, sincere voice emerges full strength from this illuminating, soul-searching story of an emotionally crippling romance.”
"In Land of Enchantment, Leigh Stein examines every cruelty and humiliation of her obsessive first love with bold intelligence and uncommon grace. A riveting, fiercely honest story about how a smart girl from a good family can fall into darkness this deep."
– Domenica Ruta, New York Times bestselling author of With or Without You
"Leigh Stein has written an engrossing account of young love, the lesser-told kind, whose enchantment is more poison than panacea. In clean, unencumbered prose, she unspools a story both ordinary and acute, proof that some kinds of violence are harder to name and leave no bruises, though their impressions never fade. I wish I could give this memoir to my younger self, and to all those smart, deeply feeling girls who so easily mistake intensity for intimacy. Stein's story does not simplify the romance of destructive love and assures us that if we can emerge from such trials, there is nothing to regret. Their lessons leave us more whole, not less."
– Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart & Abandon Me
"Leigh Stein’s memoir is exactly what a younger generation needs—an unflinching, honest tale of loss that is devoid of platitudes. She perfectly captures the complex experience of mourning an ex-lover’s death and searching for that elusive closure we all yearn for. And beyond the details of her grief story, Leigh’s gorgeous imagery will bewitch any reader into contemplating a move to New Mexico."
– Rebecca Soffer, co-founder/CEO of Modern Loss
"In Land of Enchantment, Leigh Stein explores the landscape of her own ambivalent heart following the violent ending to the life of her mesmerizing but dangerous lover. Balancing her mature voice with the daring voice of her youth, she uncovers with wit and candor, the curious power of an erratic relationship. More than a memoir of grief, this book offers insight into an all-too-common dynamic between young men and women."
– Eileen Cronin, clinical psychologist and author of Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience
"[Stein] writes beautifully and openly about what it was like to be in an abusive relationship … This well-crafted memoir easily jumps back and forth in time, never leaving the reader behind but always leaving them wanting to know more."
– Meryl Williams, Portland Mercury
“Extraordinary … The book should be required reading. Young adults will easily see a part of themselves in Leigh and Jason’s passage. Older adults will better understand the ordeals of young people.”
–David Steinberg, Albuquerque Journal