Book Review : Dennis Lehane - Since We Fell (2017)
We are not special. We are lit from within by a single candle flame and when that flame is blown out and all light leave our eyes, it is the same as if we never existed at all. We don't own our life, we rent it.
The writing career of Dennis Lehane has bloomed and reached heights only few authors ever will since Clint Eastwood himself adapted his novel Mystic River into a movie in 2003. There would be subsequent adaptations of his novels Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, The Drop and most recently Live By Night, which I'm sure sold thousands of tie-in paperbacks, if not millions. Lehane's latest endeavor, a historical trilogy about a bootlegger, has polarized opinions among his die-hard fans (such as myself) it marked a significant change from the bleak, hard-nosed style that made him famous. I've enjoyed the trilogy significantly less than Dennis Lehane's previous work, yet everything came together again in the excellent The Drop in 2014. It's understandable that Lehane doesn't want to get creatiely pigeonholed by the publishing game. I just don't understand what new direction he was trying to take in his latest novel Since We Fell, a thriller that will undoubtedly sell a lot of books and cost him a few fans.
Since We Fell follows the life of ex-journalist Rachel Childs from her childhood to her mid-thirties, portraying her long and agonizing search for her mysterious father, the growth of her successful career in journalism and her subsequent humiliating meltdown on live television while covering the Haiti earthquake. Rachel contracts a private investigator named Brian Delacroix to trace her father, with whom she kept in contact over the years. Delacroix since left his private practice and went back to his family's lumber company in Canada, yet kept a strange knack for emerging back into Rachel's life at a perfect timing. Who is this disarmingly kind and charming stranger? Rachel is unable to form a cohesive image with the fragments of her life and social and professional pressures are tearing her apart from the inside. Should she gamble on the mysterious stranger?
There is nothing inherently wrong with Since We Fell. It's a solid, gorgeously written paint-by-numbers airport thriller. My problem with it is the following: it should be WAY more than that. Dennis Lehane usually writes larger-than-life protagonists: Patrick Kenzie was a real-life neighborhood vigilante, Jimmy Marcus, Sean Devine and Dave Boyle were grown-up street royalty, Joe Coughlin was the American Dream, etc. Lehane's talent's always been to make these "conceptual" characters feel relatable through a narrative alchemy that is purely his own. Dennis Lehane has "his thing" and he doesn't do it here. I get what he was going for. He wanted to write from the perspective of someone normal, which is commendable. I love it when authors challenge themselves and try new things. It doesn't quite work here, though. Rachel Childs comes off as dopey, gullible and a danger to herself. That's unfortunate because Dennis Lehane can really write a female character when he wants it. He did write the great Angie Gennaro. Maybe normal people don't belong in his novels.
The overarching theme in Since We Fell are identity and the truth. Rachel Childs' obsession with finding who he father is translated in a strong drive to succeed and a natural interest for investigation that make her professionally successful despite being quite a mess in her personal life. She's psychologically complex and nuanced. She's a lot of fun for 200-something pages. If Since We Fell was entirely dedicated to her search for her father and distanced itself from the thriller genre a little more, I would've probably appreciated it better. It takes a sharp turn into airport thriller county about halfway in and kind of messes up hundreds of pages of careful setting. Not only it feels disjointed, but I'm sure you've read books with similar, wacky plots. The novel is undoubtedly well-written. There's an undeniable level of mastery to what Dennis Lehane does. I would read a literary novel by him in a heartbeat. He seems disinterested in the thriller genre in Since We Fell and unfortunately, it shows.
If you don't know who Dennis Lehane is, you'll probably Since We Fell for what it is. A slightly formulaic thriller about a woman who is consistently confronted to the fabricated nature of her reality. I'm being hard on it because Lehane got me used to so much better in the past, but it's not a stupid or insulting novel by any means. My problem with it is that it's uninspired and derivative. I would still say Since We Fell is above average if you're just looking for a thriller or a vacation read, but it definitely ranks in the lower-tiers Dennis Lehane novels for me. Don't get me wrong. Lehane set an insanely high standard for himself with his previous novels and I still think of him as one of the best writers in the game. Long time fans of him won't find the satisfying jolt they got from The Drop, for example. Since We Fell is an undoubtedly competent thriller that has very little to do with that made Dennis Lehane successful. It doesn't really have a thing of it's own, to be honest.