10 questions with Dennis Lehane
"I wanted to see what a female protagonist could bring out in me."
Book of the Month, Dennis Lehane
Book of the Month: You're known for novels featuring gangsters, detectives, crime lords and cops. Since We Fell is about a journalist named Rachel who is trying to uncover the truth about her family. Do you see this book as a departure from your previous work?
Dennis Lehane: Not really. Yes, Rachel is in a different income bracket than most of my previous characters. And she's from an academic, small-town background as opposed to an urban, working class world. But in other ways, she's of a piece with many of my characters. She's somewhat unstable and damaged but she's got a core streak of integrity and empathy, both of which can be inconvenient or heroic depending on the circumstances. That puts her in line with Teddy Daniels of Shutter Island or Dave Boyle in Mystic River or Patrick and Angie of my series books. I wanted to write a book that was twisty and Hitchcockian and got the reader's heart pounding, particularly in the final third, but I also wanted to write a book about identity and marriage and the often convoluted search for self most of us find ourselves on throughout our lives.
BOTM: Since We Fell is your first book that is written entirely from a female perspective. Why now?
DL: I've spent many years tapping the mine of disenfranchised white dudes who are victims of their own rigid ideals of manhood, and the mine felt tapped out. I wanted to see what a female protagonist could bring out in me.
BOTM: This book talks a lot about marriage issues. Do you think any marriage can be perfect?
DL: The only people who think marriages can be 'œperfect' are either still in grade school or unforgivably naÃ¯ve. I think there are a lot of good marriages out there but they all take a ton of work. A few sections in the book investigate the idea of assembling and reassembling yourself to fit into your role in a relationship. There are riffs about being the individual 'œI' versus being half of a 'œwe.' In the end, it's not fully possibly to know another person simply because you are not that person. Therein lies the tension at the heart of even the best marriage.
BOTM: The protagonist suffers from anxiety, which began after she experienced trauma on an assignment in Haiti. What inspired this storyline?
DL: The earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 was followed within nine months by a hurricane and a cholera outbreak. It seemed less like the universe was indifferent than that it was cruel. Rachel, who is already struggling with her own personal traumas, now confronts a global one. And it breaks something in her. I'm interested in the ways global grief can intersect and compound personal grief. So that's where Haiti came in.
BOTM: Two years ago Dreamworks snapped up the film rights to Since We Fell. Who would you most like to see portray Rachel?
DL: I never go down that path. Sorry. I don't even give it a thought.
BOTM: You've written 14 novels so far, including massive bestsellers such as Mystic River, Shutter Island, and The Drop. Do you have a favorite?
DL: I'm very fond of Mystic River. The Given Day is another one I like.
BOTM: Many of your books, including Since We Fell, take place in your hometown of Boston. You now live in California. Was that a career move or because Southie and Dorchester are no longer gritty enough? :)
DL: Well, Southie might have been gentrified but definitely not Dorchester. No gastro-pubs or Benzes in my neighborhood. But I had left Dorchester in my 20s. My family moved out, most of my friends did, and none of us wanted to deal with the traffic caused by the Big Dig. So I lived in Charlestown and Brighton and the Fenway. My last house was in Coolidge Corner. The California move happened because of movie work and TV work. I grew up loving movies and I'm a big fan of premium cable TV, so I thought I'd give it a whirl for a bit and come back. I didn't count on my kids loving it and the work being so fun and so infinite. So I'd say I'm stuck here for at least 15 years. There are worse places to find yourself exiled.
BOTM: The heroes of your novels are usually ordinary, working-class people. Has it gotten harder to write about average joes as you've grown in fame and begun working in the movie industry?
DL: Not really, no. It's in my bones. My father was working class until the day he died; he didn't even like movies and he never read books. Most of my friends are working class and they could care less what I do for a living. The measure of who you are in that world is determined by personal integrity and how you treat other people, not by the size of your bank account or the number of celebrities you know. I hold onto that probably because, at 50, I'm too old to change.
BOTM: You've talked about how when you were a child, you read everything you could get your hands on, from the Bible to encyclopedias. What do you read now to keep that same curiosity alive?
DL: A lot of non-fiction. When I read fiction, it's as far afield from the type of fiction I write as I can get. The last two books I read were Killers of the Flower Moon and Exit West (both of which were brilliant by the way.)
BOTM: You've written bestselling novels, TV scripts for shows like The Wire, and movie screenplays. Where do you go from here? Any chance for a Broadway show?
DL: Ha! No. I'm not a Broadway show kind of guy. I'd like to run a TV show at some point. I've been part of enough good ones now, either as a writer or as a consulting producer, that I feel confident I'd (mostly) know what I was doing.