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Onyx reviews: Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 5/6/2017
For the first time, Dennis Lehane presents a novel with a female
protagonist. He doesn't do so half-heartedly: he delves into her entire life,
from her childhood through to a critical moment when she is forced to confront a
shocking reality and decide who exactly she wishes to be.
The book draws its title from the song "Since I Fell for You,"
written by one-hit wonder Lenny Welch and covered by dozens upon dozens of other
performers. As a character reflects, it's not a love song so much as a loss
song, "the lament of someone trapped in a hopeless
addiction to a heartless lover who will, there is no doubt, ultimately destroy
him." The song reappears, like a leitmotif, throughout the text, although
it disguises one of the book's greatest mysteries.
If not for a prologue in which thirty-seven-year-old Rachel Childs shoots her husband dead while on
a boat in Boston Harbor, Since We Fell might seem like a completely
different novel for a substantial fraction of its length. The first quarter of
the novel details the years between 1977 and 2010. Much of the plot here
pertains to her quest to find out who her father is. Although she has vague memories of the man from
her early childhood before he left them, all she knows is that his name is James and that he
instructor at a local college.
Rachel's controlling, toxic and manipulative mother found excuses to delay telling
her about her father, and then a fatal accident stole any chance that the two
would ever have that discussion. By then, Rachel was 21, attending college.
She's left well-enough off to hire a private investigator named Brian Delacroix
to track down James. He dissuades her, primarily because she doesn't have enough
information and he he doesn't want to waste her money. She will encounter Brian
again off and on in subsequent years. She's fascinated by him at times and put
off or disappointed in him at others.
Her career trajectory is rapid and crushing. After grad school, she goes to
work for the Boston Globe, migrates to a local TV station, where she rises
rapidly through the ranks until she comes to the notice of a producer (who
becomes her first husband) who helps get her big chance with the "Big
Six" networks in New York. She covers the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake
in Haiti but is so affected by the tragedy that her downbeat stories dismay her
editors stateside. Despite being given a second chance, she has an on-air
meltdown that goes viral, ending her career in journalism and, by the same
token, her marriage.
The events of the first section leave Rachel in a vulnerable position. Her
quest to find her father—and, by proxy, her own identity—has successes and
setbacks, but she suffers abandonment issues and resentment toward her mother.
Already prone to anxiety attacks, her public humiliation causes her to suffer
self-doubt and agoraphobia. For long stretches she refuses to leave her
apartment except during times when she's unlikely to encounter many
people. Then she meets Brian, the former detective, again, and they embark on a
whirlwind romance. He's the perfect man for her, patient and loving, coaxing her
out of her self-imposed exile from society. She's working on a book about her
experiences in Haiti, and is mostly happy. Still, she experiences self-doubt
and self-recrimination, and has the occasional hallucination.
Then her world rapidly falls apart once more. She suffers a cataclysmic loss of faith
and trust in her second husband. She comes to believe that he isn't traveling abroad on
business trips when he says he is, even though he sends her a selfie from his
overseas hotel to assuage her doubts. Is she paranoid, or are her suspicions
justified? She's seen things that weren't there before, so by this
point in the book, readers will know enough about her history to have doubts.
From this point onward, a little over halfway through the book, Since We
Fell becomes a full-tilt thriller. Rachel is forced to grapple with and
overcome her carefully constructed but fragile version of her own identity when
she is faced with a monumental fraud that has been perpetrated against her. How
can someone who is overwhelmed by crowds prevail under conditions of high stress
and mortal danger? That seems to be the question Lehane is asking in this novel.
It takes him a while to get there, but the preliminary matter is all necessary
to completely familiarize readers with Rachel's nature. The extended setup makes
what follows much more effective and harrowing.
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