“Mystic River” takes us through a horribly traumatic childhood experience shared by Dave Boyle, Jimmy Marcus, and Sean Divine. As kids living in different parts of Boston, Sean and Jimmy interact because their fathers have an unlikely friendship that sprouted from their mutual employment at a candy factory. Dave Boyle, who is Jimmy’s neighbor, desperately clings to him while tagging along with the boys on their Saturday afternoon adventures. After a sidewalk scuffle between the boys, a lurking brown sedan approaches them, and two men claiming to be police officers question them about their actions. Dave is bullied into the car after the men determine he is the weakest link; Sean lives in a house on the street, and Jimmy would put up too much of a fight. Dave’s captors keep him hidden for four days before he finally escapes and runs to a nearby gas station. The community celebrates Dave’s return, but the boys are left with confusion and guilt about what really happened, with Sean and Jimmy grappling over their responsibility in the situation. Fast forward about fifteen years, we meet the three as adults who find themselves at the center of yet another tragic crime. The unfortunate situation forces them back into each other’s lives in extremely intimate and unfortunate ways.
Dennis Lehane does not waste precious page space with unnecessary details; his direct and straightforward prose levels with the reader in a concise fashion before moving on to the next equally important piece of the story. This beautifully written story grabs the reader and refuses to let go. Through the characters of Dave, Sean, and Jimmy, we explore the everlasting effects of their childhood trauma and how it influences their actions as adults. The abduction haunts them, and as the novel progresses we see exactly how the dark memories of that fateful day continue to infect their lives and the people they love.
The relationships between the three main characters and their wives shed light on the intricacies of each individual personality. Each female character possesses some missing element that the men can only attain through their relationships. Celest Boyle provides the protection Dave needs and cannot summon on his own, but she is equally susceptible to fear and self-loathing. Annabeth accepts Jimmy and the wild nature he tries so hard to suppress and yet will wield petty criticisms at the drop of a hat. Lauren is a lingering ghostly presence that shows Sean he is missing a piece of the puzzle that he will only find when he accepts his role and responsibility in his current situation.
I flew through this book despite my naturally sluggish reading pace. Fluid and smart, Lehane’s writing propels the reader forward with easily understandable prose. The way the words are constructed is pleasurable to the eye; the flow is not cumbersome or clunky. A true artist, Dennis Lehane paints a word picture that is translatable to every type of reader regardless of age, background, or gender, making this novel exceedingly relatable. I usually gauge the artistic ability of an author by how vivid the picture in my mind becomes, and this book imprinted a detailed panoramic canvas in my mind’s eye. The details are rich without being pretentious. His characters are deeply flawed but all have qualities that make you feel a special kinship with each of them.
I began reading “Mystic River,” after spotting it on a suggesting reading list for aspiring novelists. There is no question as to why this work wound up on the list. This is a great example of the quality of writing I hope to create some day.
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