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“…a Sam Shepard play with interior monologue, or a Cormac McCarthy novel in the voice of Holden Caulfield.” The Star Tribune

Chosen as the featured read for One Book, One North Dakota, December 2022.

The Quinn brothers are wild and rangy, a product of their desperate home town, Radium. When trouble comes, young Billy Quinn takes his kid brother on the road in a daring sprint from the law.

Hardcover | 400 pages

In stock

SKU: 15 Category:


Radium is about two bad-luck brothers from a bad-luck town in the flat farmland of western Minnesota. Jim, the narrator, is fifteen and damaged, the result of a car accident years before that left him with a head injury and a tweaked view of the world. He sees his big brother, Billy Quinn, in near mythic terms. Billy is wild and strong and capable of things other men are not.

They live together in a trailer house on the ditch-side of a beet field until Billy gets into bad trouble, and then they go on the run. That’s what wild young men like Billy—growing up rangy and unsupervised in the desperate middle of this country—do when trouble comes. They run. They drive cars fast. They go west. They live on the lam, always about three days from a federal manhunt.

Laws are broken, but with an older brother his only true friend on earth—a brother he loves more than his own next breath—Jim justifies their deeds, willing to do…anything…to keep Billy free.

Praise for Radium:

“Jim’s self-effacing devotion to his brother Billy is endearing, and his perceptions are sweet, sad and mystical—think of a Sam Shepard play with interior monologue, or a Cormac McCarthy novel in the voice of Holden Caulfield. I enjoyed being in this boy’s head. . . [Radium] is well worth the ride, the dusty, defeated backwoods drive, which doesn’t end entirely as Jim predicts.”

—The Star Tribune

“A striking debut novel brimming with raw power. When America gives up on you most people accept their lot; Enger’s characters stand up, hit the road, and take what should be theirs.  With echoes of Steinbeck and McMurtyRadium announces a vibrant new voice in American fiction.”

—Will Weaver, Sweet Land: New & Collected Stories

“John Enger has created two marvelous characters who might not live according to society’s rules but still get our sympathy.”

—Pioneer Press

“There is a type of literature, quintessentially American, that draws its power from the open spaces of the west.  It is picaresaque, searching, and painted with theological undertones that speak to our eternal American quest for redemption in the land. John Enger’s new book, Radium, sits squarely in this tradition. It tells the story of two brothers, Billy and Jim, who fall into a life of petty criminality due to Billy’s impetuous nature and Jim’s willingness to follow the violent whims of his older brother. Told through Jim’s worshipful but flawed eyes, it takes us across the length and breadth of the great American west on a journey of both discovery and pursuit. Laced with colorful characters and colorful encounters, Radium is intimate portrait of two boys caught on the wrong side of the American dream.”

—Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog


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