Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Let me preface this review by saying that Dennis Lehane, while massively talented, critically praised, and lauded by plenty of writers I adore, has been hit or miss for me throughout the years. He is, admittedly, an incredibly talented writer but his books just don't always appeal to me as a reader. Much as I love detective fiction, I never fell in love with his Kenzie and Gennaro series and many of the other books just didn't catch my attention. With the exception of Shutter Island.

Shutter Island is absolutely brilliant and one of my all time favorite reads. And so I've been open to Lehane, simply waiting for another of his books to catch my eye the way that one did.

Since We Fell seemed like it might be the one.

Rachel Childs did not have an easy childhood. Her father left when she was just three and her mother kept his identity a closely held secret, the kind she lorded over Rachel. After years of promising to reveal enough information that Rachel could seek him out herself, her mother passes away without revealing said information. Driven to find meaning in her life and her career, Rachel sets off on one mission after another - finding her father's identity, connecting with the man himself, covering stories that mean something... - until she finally breaks down in a very public and career ending way.

But life is starting to look up again, in spite of the fact that Rachel has become something of a shut in thanks to unpredictable panic attacks. She's remarried to a man she loves dearly, who loves her as well. And yet the panic attacks continue. Not only that, but Rachel finds herself analyzing her new life in a manner that suggests she still can't trust the things around her. Whether her suspicion is founded or another symptom of her fragile mental state is something only Rachel can discover.

Since We Fell builds so slowly. For the first half of the book, the story is driven by Rachel herself. Given my preference, as I've mentioned many times, definitely leans away from character driven tales it seemed likely I'd probably DNF this one. And yet there was something about Rachel that kept me interested.

Oh, and there's the fact that the book begins with Rachel killing her husband. Those elements combined to pretty much ensure that I was invested enough in the story to be driven by curiosity as to how we'd get from Rachel's beginning to that shocking end.

Rachel is stubborn and, as I mentioned, driven. While it seems she has nothing to go on at all, and a PI even reinforces this idea, she's still determined to find her father. Later, she sticks to her guns as a journalist, risking (and ruining) her career in an effort to help in Haiti. Her dogged demeanor means that once she sets her mind to something, she's not going to give up. But it turns out that might be to her detriment as well.

It takes roughly half of the book before the story really gets moving. But again, Rachel is interesting. Her husband travels - a lot. Rachel stays home because she's been fighting agoraphobic tendencies and panic attacks, but one fateful afternoon she does actually leave her home to meet up with a friend for drinks. And it's that meeting that kicks off the real action of the story.

It's almost jarring how quickly the book breaks from the slow build of the first half. It's definitely disjointed to some extent. No doubt the slow build of the first half will (and already has) garner criticism from readers, but so far the book's gotten the same great reviews Lehane always gets from fellow authors and trade publications. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it because, as a whole, and disjointedness aside, I did enjoy Since We Fell. While I definitely think that first half gives the reader a chance to understand Rachel and her life leading up to that point, and it does make more sense by the time the book is finished, I'd argue that it could have been pared down at least a little a bit. But it certainly didn't keep me from adding this to the win column as far as Lehane's books go for me.  I listened to it on audio, narrated by Julia Whalen, which is a bit of a change for me, and found myself looking for excuses to fit in time to listen.

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