SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane
CBTB Rating: 4/5
The Verdict: sophisticated, nuanced suspense
I have a bookish confession to make: SINCE WE FELL is the first Dennis Lehane book I’ve ever read. It’s safe to say I’m now a convert, and I’ll be making an intentional effort to get caught up on his backlist now that I've devoured this masterful suspense novel. SINCE WE FELL is part sophisticated domestic drama, part unpredictable conspiracy, and part character study. Precisely plotted and expertly paced, SINCE WE FELL is a wholly impressive and immersive suspense read.
SINCE WE FELL follows Rachel Childs, a former journalist who, after an on-air mental breakdown, now lives as a virtual shut-in. In all other respects, however, she enjoys an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until a chance encounter on a rainy afternoon causes that ideal life to fray. As does Rachel’s marriage. As does Rachel herself. Sucked into a conspiracy thick with deception, violence, and possibly madness, Rachel must find the strength within herself to conquer unimaginable fears and mind-altering truths. By turns heart-breaking, suspenseful, romantic, and sophisticated, Since We Fell is a novel of profound psychological insight and tension. It is Dennis Lehane at his very best.
SINCE WE FELL is one of those books that somehow manages to defy every expectation you have for it, and simultaneously make you so glad for the ways in which it surprises you. I went into this book expecting a twisty domestic thriller, and while this book definitely does have those elements, it’s a much more unusual read than I expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong - I love a binge-worthy, commercial psychological thriller as much as the next reader! But SINCE WE FELL stands apart from the crowd for its unique pacing and unusual structure. I would recommend this book to readers of literary fiction in the same breath as I’d recommend it to readers of crime fiction - SINCE WE FELL blurs the line between the genres, serving up a read that is at once intelligent and immersive.
Structurally, SINCE WE FELL must be one of the most unusual books I’ve read in ages. Where most psychological thrillers throw the reader promptly into the action, Lehane devotes a significant portion of the book to backstory development. The first 100 or so pages of SINCE WE FELL span the early career of Rachel, our story’s main character. Readers walk hand in hand with Rachel through the early stages of her career in journalism and through her search to find her father, and watch as the pieces of her life begin to crumble around her, culminating in a very public on-air breakdown. At first, I really wasn’t sure if this plot structure was going to work for me. Lehane spends a lot of time exploring Rachel’s past, and I wasn’t sure how conducive this would be to really great thriller writing - after all, don’t thrillers need that twisty-turny, edge-of-your-seat plotting to qualify as “addictive”?
I had no reason to worry. Lehane knows exactly what he’s doing, and the time spent developing Rachel and exploring these elements of her past directly serve the remainder of the story. I will note that I had the benefit of having spoken with an early reader of SINCE WE FELL before diving in; if I had gone in blind, I might have been disheartened by its slow-paced introduction. But as it was, my appreciation for the rich development of this book's main character grew with every page I read. Lehane has full command over the pacing of this novel: he’s made some really counterintuitive decisions in his writing, and yet they really do work when you look at the novel as a whole.
What do I mean when I say his pacing is unusual? Lehane spends pages and pages on backstory, and then he actually speeds his pacing up through scenes that are action-packed. And I don’t just mean that the pacing gets faster - I mean he seems to press fast-forward on some really tense and occasionally violent scenes, making the reader feel like a voyeur sneaking a glimpse of the action happening within the book’s pages. All of this sounds odd, I’m sure - if I had known this going into the book, I might have been skeptical. But my reading experience was made all the better for the book’s unpredictability, not only in its content but in its structure as well. SINCE WE FELL is fresh, engaging, and immersive - all the more so because of Lehane’s envelope-pushing writing.
More than anything else, SINCE WE FELL is a meditation on identity. Over the course of the novel, identities are concealed, sought out, and manipulated; no single character in this novel can be taken at face value. Whether it’s a character putting on an identity as a means to an end, a character seeking their own true identity by exploring their past, or a character who changes identities as easily as you or I might change clothes, SINCE WE FELL asks readers to consider what really defines us when everything we hold dear can be taken away. This theme necessitates the deep-dive into characters' histories that Lehane achieves through the book's slower introduction.
I was wholly engaged by and immersed in my first-ever Dennis Lehane read. I do want to reiterate that this is not your standard psychological thriller - readers looking for fast pacing and twisty-turny plotting will be better suited looking elsewhere. (Consider books like THE GIRL BEFORE by JP Delaney or THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware.) But readers open to something a bit unusual, a suspense novel with a literary bent and a non-traditional structure, will love SINCE WE FELL.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Ecco (May 9, 2017)