Since We Fell
By Dennis Lehane
Ecco. 418 pp.
Reviewed by Neely Tucker
Dennis Lehane's 14th novel takes the author back to his old New England stomping grounds, that fertile place of Mystic River and Shutter Island. This tale, basing its title on an old torch ballad, is a pleasantly twisted character study and a love story told in no particular rush.
It turns, down to the last page, on the captivating heart of a disgraced television journalist named Rachel Childs. It's about identity, too - how you picture yourself internally and how that contrasts with the outer personality you use to face the rest of the world.
Rachel is born in a lily-white, highly academic zip code in western Massachusetts, the daughter of Elizabeth, an overbearing mother, and James, a soon-to-be vanished father. Rachel's father takes off when Rachel is a tot. Never talk of your dad, Mom tells her heartbroken daughter. Erase him from your life. Half-wasted, she tells her 10-year-old only child: "A man is the stories he tells about himself, and most of those stories are lies. Never look too closely."
The rest of the book is largely composed of Rachel's negotiating the traps set by a succession of men: a warlord in a Haitian refugee camp; an emotionally distant first husband; and then, for all the stakes, her second hubby, Brian.
The reader should not be in a hurry. The first quarter of the book follows the youthful Rachel, her journalism and television career, and the search for her dad. She's a good reporter at the Boston Globe, transitions to television, marries a handsome producer, and is on her way to the national networks when she is sent to cover an earthquake in Haiti. The violence, poverty, and misery she encounters disrupt her celluloid-thin emotional shell, however, and she melts down on the air.
She becomes a shut-in, her marriage disintegrates ... and she runs into Brian, a former private investigator who helped her look for her dad. They fall for each other, in the phrase of the betrothed, for better or worse. Mostly, worse.
Lehane, is, as ever, a graceful writer, observant of the world that shapes his characters' lives. Nothing dubious about the merits here. Lehane is in command of what he's doing - unspooling plot twists and developing his character as Rachel descends into her own heart of darkness.
Neely Tucker's most recent book is "Only the Hunted Run." This review originally appeared in the Washington Post.