by Susan Seyfarth
I'll say it right up front: I don't read to improve my mind.
Reading does improve my mind, of course, but it's just a fringe benefit. I read to be entertained. I read to be taken away. I read to get sucked in, carried along, then spat out, exhausted but satisfied. I read to see characters I love grow, change & earn their happy endings.
I read because sometimes characters become so real to me that I keep thinking about them well after The End. I hear their voices in my head, the particular cadence of their speech. They turn up in my dreams.
If I find an author who can give me those kinds of characters plus the happy ending I love so much, I'm a fan for life. I'll gorge on their backlist then gnash my teeth, mutter bad-tempered things about slow writers & wait for a new book to come out.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself crushing on Dennis Lehane.
The characters are everything I could want but Dennis Lehane isn't exactly Mr. Happy Ending.
Remember Mystic River? It came out as a movie several years ago--Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon? Three kids in Boston who used to be friends until one of them got snatched off the street by child molesters? That was Dennis Lehane.
Remember Gone, Baby, Gone? Another book-turned-movie. Came out last year, Ben Affleck's directorial debut, earned his little brother Casey a Best Actor nomination? The one about a little girl's kidnapping & the PIs who investigate? Also Dennis Lehane.
I enjoyed the movies. But I wasn't hooked. Not until my husband brought home Shutter Island from the library. Shutter Island starts out like a traditional dectective novel. A U. S. Marshall is called to a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from a hospital for the criminally insane. And you roll through 2/3s of the book totally buying it.
And then the final third unspools & you think, "Wait. I didn't sign up for this. I was supposed to get a detective novel. Good guys taking it on the chin, then rising up in triumph. I didn't sign up for...for...for THIS."
Because what you get is totally different from what you're led to expect. And it's a mark of Lehane's immense talent that when it's all said & done, you're satisfied. You think, "Okay, not what I was hoping for, but it was the only way. I see that now. If I had been paying attention, I'd have seen it sooner."
I'm being purposefully vague because I don't want to unload any spoilers on you. I'll only say this: The book jacket actually says "Nothing is what it seems." But do you believe it? Of course not. Lehane takes you by the hand & says, "Pay no attention to that. We're going this way." And you go. He's that good.
After I finished the book, though I realized what really impressed me about it. As a writer, I know how hard it is to keep several balls in the air. Try writing a sex scene or a fight scene sometime--it's like being schizophrenic. You have to keep track of the physical action, the emotional consequences of that action, & then keep moving the plot forward at the same time. It's one scene--five to ten pages--and it's exhausting.
Then I thought about Lehane writing an entire novel in which he knows the reader is going to think one thing is happening while meanwhile an entirely different reality is spinning out before our eyes. But we don't see behind the curtain until close to the end of the book. So he had to write an entire novel in which every single scene had to work on two levels--the surface level he'd encouraged us as readers to buy, then the ultimate reality which he as a writer had to make inevitable so that we'd get to the end of the book & think, "Of course. I should have known. I should have seen it sooner." But that's the trick. We did see it sooner. We saw everything. He laid it right out there. We just didn't get it.
So here I am, the most devoted hearts-and-flowers romance reader you're ever going to find, nursing a killer crush on a guy who takes me to some of the darkest, sickest corners the human psyche has to offer. And why? Because he's a damn good writer. Too good to resist.
Just try him. If you don't like him, that's okay. He's not the most comfortable of reads. But if you do like him, you're going to track me down me in San Fran next week to shake my hand. Either that or to punch me in the nose for getting you hooked on the literary version of crack cocaine.
Start with Shutter Island. They're making a movie of it as we speak (Scorcese!) so there's no time to waste.
So tell me--have you ever found yourself in love with something--a book, a food, a TV show, a person--that completely surprised you & everybody who knows you? Have you ever had a crush that was wildly out of character? When was the last time your heart surprised you?