At first glance, Since We Fell feels…well, not very much like a Dennis Lehane book. Setting aside the book’s prologue, it’s the story of a young woman who grows up under the watchful eye of a domineering, cold single mother, who constantly refused to tell her about her father or who he was. And as this young woman grows up and becomes an investigative reporter, we see as her life shows stress cracks – panic attacks, anxiety-driven behaviors, and more – leading to her becoming a bit of a recluse. In other words, it’s a quiet, moody character study, one that feels more personal and more emotionally driven than Lehane’s usual noir crime stories.
But there is that prologue, isn’t there? Because, sure, that description may sound mellow and introspective. But given that we know this story will result in that young woman – Rachel Childs – shooting her husband and watching him fall lifelessly off of a boat…well, that changes things, doesn’t it?
It’s a savvy move for Lehane to open with that prologue, because without it, a lot of readers might give up on Since We Fell. Now, that would be a shame – this is a pretty great read, as I’ll get into shortly – but it’s understandable, because Since We Fell takes its time to become more than a character study of a quiet, anxiety-ridden woman. Indeed, it’s not until more than halfway through the book that Lehane starts to turn the book into something more, letting Rachel’s life begin to show signs of oddness as the people around her start seeming less than honest, and the reality she knows starts to unravel.
Exactly what kind of novel this turns into, I’ll let the reader discover; suffice to say, Lehane hasn’t left his thriller roots behind, even if what he’s crafted is more character-driven and psychologically-rooted than anything since Shutter Island. Like that novel, Since We Fell takes its time letting us settle into the mind of its protagonist, giving us a sense of Rachel’s moral and psychological views on the world, and investing us in her life. And if it ultimately feels like Lehane could prune the novel’s first half a bit, that not all of it is entirely necessary, that’s okay; without it, we’d miss out on some rich writing and character work that truly drew me into its world even as I wondered when the other shoe would drop. (What’s more, the way Lehane includes so much lets him plant seeds in plain view without us ever realizing what will be important later and what won’t.)
What Lehane has crafted here is an odd book – part love story, part thriller; part psychological character study, part mind game – but it’s anchored throughout by his typically great writing and a steady, involving pace that drew me in to the point where I didn’t even realize how much of the book had passed without much “happening”. It’s rich fare with a pulp heart, and while it’s a break from what Lehane usually does, that doesn’t make it less engaging and enjoyable – indeed, while it might not be Lehane’s “best” book, it’s one of his most fun and enjoyable ones, which makes it all the better for its summer release date.