Thursday, November 20, 2008

Worst Impulses

Mystic River
by Dennis LeHane

First of all, apologies to my fellow readers for the lag between posts. I was in Oklahoma for a couple of days last week, celebrating the life of a beloved friend who left this life on November 1. Then came back to a busy time at work and a croupy kid (he's better now). Anyway, somehow the blog got put on the back burner for a few days - but I'm still reading and now have a nice little backlog to catch up on!

Mystic River was a critically acclaimed movie a few years ago that I never got around to seeing - maybe now that I have read the book I will rent the movie. At its most basic level, Mystic River is about three guys who are childhood friends, but then a tragic event pulls them apart. They all grow up and continue to live near each other - two are even related by marriage - but "the thing" continues to haunt each one of them and cast a shadow over any relationship they hope to have with each other (not to mention their spouses, children, and other people who are important to them). It also seems to me, though, that the novel expresses the ongoing struggle we have with our innermost worst impulses. Each of these guys wants to see justice done when things happen that are wrong, and intellectually they know right from wrong. Because of their past, though, they have the desire to take justice into their own hands, and bring it about by brutal means. Sean, the only one who does not turn criminal, runs in the opposite direction and becomes a homicide detective. But he too struggles with his need for vengeance and retribution, he just gets there by more subtle means than Dave or Jimmy.

Mystic River is an honest book, but I must confess that I kept waiting for a little more hope, a tad more grace - a moment when someone would choose to take the high road and not perpetuate the cycle of sickness that began when these guys were little kids. However, I think LeHane does a good job of articulating the contrasts that so often lie below the surface of human beings. A hardened criminal can be the most devoted family man, someone who will put his own life on the line for his kids. A grown man fighting the impulse to abuse as he was abused can at the same time be a tender husband and patient father. People are complicated, and rarely all bad or all good. That is no news flash, but LeHane draws us into the story so well that we learn that lesson (again) in ways that we will go back over again and again in our minds.

Reverent Reader


At 11/26/08, 11:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

RR, we recently saw the movie via netflix. Worth getting. I agree with you that there isn't much hope in it. Some years back (1970's) I worked in Boston with an Assistant Attorney General, George V. Higgins, who wrote a similar novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum starred in the movie). Book is a good read, much along the same lines, about the Boston underworld, with Higgins in real life prosecuting many of the offenders. Not much hope abounds in this story either. The players in both drag each other down. The settings are similar, East Boston and South Boston, both historically poor, but close-knit neighborhoods. These people are truly trapped by their culture and associations. On a similar note, I'm reading The Birth of Venus (Sarah Dunant) and see again the tragedy of people caught in their culture and circumstance. Hard to say why, but I really do like to read stories like this, no matter what time period or place. jbl

At 12/2/08, 1:05 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

J - I agree with you in that I am drawn to this sort of book but cannot really articulate why. I guess people presented in al their complexity are more believable than scenarios where everything works out so tidily. However, I want to hope that at least some scenarios end more happily than the one in Mystic River.



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