- Publish Date
- Thursday, 25 May 2017, 3:03PM
- By Stephanie Jones
Identity, that maddening puzzle. Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane’s dizzying, dazzling new novel, concerns the mysterious life of Rachel Childs Delacroix, a woman frustrated by the absence of hard data about herself. Rachel’s late mother, Elizabeth, who hovers around the frame of the story like a vengeful, radiant ghost, refused to concede any paternal information to her inquisitive only child. A putative father will deliver to Rachel his verdict of Elizabeth: “She was just the most profoundly damaged human being I’ve ever met.”
How much daughter has inherited of mother is just one of several mysteries Lehane flings at the reader: parse this, if you can. Rachel’s instability becomes evident first with an abrupt employment termination, after she lost her professional detachment during on-camera reportage of the Haiti earthquake, and then with agoraphobia, which keeps her housebound for 18 months at a stretch. She experiences hallucinations that a layperson would ascribe to PTSD.
Luckily, that fatherless void has been partly filled by a compassionate, sensitive husband, Brian Delacroix, whom she met during his brief early career as a private investigator (he scrupulously declined to search for her father on the grounds that she might as well burn her money), and whose job as a price negotiator in the lumber racket routinely takes him around the country – they live in Boston – and overseas.
Spoiler alert: the first sentence of the prologue has Rachel, now in her mid-30s, shooting her husband dead. Try to guess from that opening, and the title, where the story goes: towards a heedless plunge into love, or a retelling of the cautionary tale of Adam and Eve, or maybe, if read literally, into one watery plot twist.
Best advice is to sit back and enjoy the show. As in Shutter Island, Lehane toys with words and personae endlessly, delightfully, so you learn to stop taking anything at face value – but you don’t really learn, because the shocks keep coming and get weightier each time. It’s a deeply pleasurable kind of manipulation because of how it tests the intellect – I was ecstatic to decipher one trick, to do with a receipt, in advance – and for Lehane’s expert balancing of character and narrative. His cleverness thrills but never irks, and Rachel is an ideal mix of unreliable and magnetic. She could hardly be dull, not with her genetic contributors: when her father is at last identified, she sees in a photograph his “small smile, a withholding one; it wasn’t an invitation, it was a moat.”
Lehane, as constant readers will know, is a devoted chronicler of Boston who revels in its architecture and culture and seems happiest when describing its tendency to inclement weather. Rachel stares out the window of her condo at the “Monet version” of the Charles River and the “haphazard lunacy” of the Stata, a Gehry-designed building on the MIT campus. She stalks her erstwhile husband along highways and byways and past shops whose advertised wares aren’t the same as their real ones.
The Lehane oeuvre is becoming richer and more diverse with every book, the author seemingly incapable of producing anything less than mesmeric. Since We Fell, coming on the heels of the excellent Coughlin trilogy (which, unusual among Lehane adaptations, didn’t get the film it deserved), is an outstanding psychological thriller, probably the best since Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, with which it has much in common. It might even be perfect.
Every week Stephanie reviews the Book of the Week.
As the Coast book reviewer, Stephanie Jones shares her thoughts each week on the latest releases.
Stephanie has a BA (Hons) in history and English literature, and a background in journalism, magazine publishing, public relations and corporate and consumer communications.
Stephanie is a contributor to the New Zealand Book Council’s ‘Talking Books’ podcast series (listen here), and a member of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award judging panel. She can be found on Twitter @ParsingThePage.
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