“Will anything save me from this months-long reading slump I’m in?” so I cried.
Deepti Kapoor’s Age of Vice came close but I think that was largely due to the fact that I haven’t read many stories set in India so I didn’t know the familiar tips and tricks Stateside writers do. Aside from that one, I’ve read a lot of good stuff this year but I’ve also quit a lot because…well I don’t know the “because.” Have my standards gotten higher? Am I just tired of crime fiction? Should I give it all up and become a Military History Dad, backslapping my kids and telling them how great of a General Patton was?
Well, Mystic River might have saved me.
I watched the movie adaptation when I was 18, before I knew it was a novel. I remember it being a good movie, even with Sean Penn’s performance (which I knew back then was over-acting even if I didn’t know what the term was at the time). I still think of some of the scenes.
I like Dennis Lehane but because of the movie, I put off reading this for almost twenty years. And when I tried a couple of times last summer, I couldn’t get past the first section. I found it overwritten and too sad. I’m a dad now and I don’t like to think about the horrible things that happen to young people. This time, I bullrushed my way through it…
And then I couldn’t put it down.
This is the kind of multi-character, urbane crime epic that I love but what makes it so great is how generational trauma is transferred. The citizens of Bucky are your typical lower middle class white folk who live racism loudly and can’t grapple with gentrification. Their dads beat them when they were around and then eventually ran off or died. Their moms drank to faded dreams and doors not opened. They never left.
And so the genius of this Lehane work is how he makes trauma claustrophobic. The galvanizing event of what happened to Danny when he got in that car and its reverberating effects 25 years later are deeply felt because these people don’t let go. They can’t let go. They’re bound to this neighborhood like the tightest ball of rubber bands, stretching and stretching yet preserving their integrity. So when Katie is murdered and the events of the modern day are set in motion, you already have a sense of the cycle.
This book tries to wrestle with fate but its to its credit that it gives that discourse up in the final third, especially as it begins its descent. Fate is fickle; fates are molded by decisions and not coincidences. Darwinism reigns supreme, no matter how many rosaries you pray. Fate is lashed to this town by the same rubber bands that keep people here. Woe to the one who tries to break free. Even if you escape the town, you never escape the trauma.
So yeah, this book is excellent.