Friday, May 12, 2017

Book Review: "Since We Fell" by Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane is truly one of my most favorite contemporary authors. He electrified me the minute I read the first Kenzie-Gennaro mystery (and all of the others that followed) and dazzled me with Mystic River, and while not every subsequent novel has been a home run, the indisputable fact is, I love the way he writes.

Needless to say, I pounced on Since We Fell, his newest novel, practically at midnight the day it came out. I've decided that how you feel about this book may very well depend upon whether you've been led to believe it's a thriller or a novel. As a novel, it's definitely thrilling, particularly the last third or so, but as a thriller, it's not quite as pulse-pounding as you would probably expect it to be. Expectations. Tricky things, no?

Rachel Childs had a difficult childhood. Raised by a single mother who refused to give her any information about her father, Rachel was simultaneously nurtured and bullied by her mother, smothered and neglected. After her mother's death, her search for her father leads her to meet some interesting people, and learn just how difficult and controlling her mother really was.

Given her dogged investigative thirst, Rachel finds success first as a print journalist, then a television news reporter. She is being groomed for major success when, covering the aftermath of the Haiti earthquakes, she has a breakdown on the air. Her career in ruins, she becomes a virtual shut-in, barely leaving her apartment, licking her wounds. And then one day a chance encounter with someone from her past, someone who has always intrigued but confused her, makes her realize that happiness might not be totally out of her grasp.

Rachel and her husband live a relatively quiet, reasonably ideal life. He travels a bit for work, and encourages her to overcome her agoraphobia, little by little, but doesn't push too hard. He wants her to find the strength to thrive on her own. But then one afternoon, as she decides to venture out on her own, she makes a shocking discovery that throws her for a bit of a loop. As she tries to make the puzzle pieces fit, she uncovers a web far more tangled than she could ever imagine. She isn't sure whether she should let her panic attacks consume her again or if she should battle back for the first time in a long time. And she's not even really sure what she's battling against.

Since We Fell takes a while to build up steam, but it's still a well-told, compelling story about a woman driven to uncover secrets, first about her father, and then about the news stories she covers. It's a story about a woman knocked back on her heels, and whether she should try to find the strength to knock back, or if she should just be content with being a has-been more famous for appearing crazy than the work she did. It's also a story about how an unexpected relationship might not save you, but it may give you the courage you need to save yourself.

Lehane's storytelling is in fine form here, and once he kicks the book into thriller mode, the engine just takes off, leaving you breathless at times. There are a lot of twists and turns here, some I saw coming, some surprised me. It's not necessarily new ground, but it's kind of like having a familiar dish prepared by a master chef—everything is just a little bit better.

Years ago, a few days after Mystic River was released, I met Lehane at a reading and book signing. When I told him I had already read the book, he said, "But the book came out Tuesday. It's Friday, man. I don't think I can write that fast!" I offered to sharpen his pencils if that would help. Needless to say, I've done it again, and I know I may have to wait a few years until Lehane's next book. But Dennis, if you're reading this, I'd be glad to sharpen some pencils if it will help.

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