Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “guilt”

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #103: Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

I saw the movie “Mystic River” quite a few years ago, and remember it being dark, painfully tragic and brilliantly acted. Now, having read quite a few of Lehane’s novels and enjoyed every one of them, I picked up Mystic River the book at my library, and got blown away all over again. Lehane takes a murder mystery and wraps it in a study of human psychology that is truly Shakespearean in scope.

It starts with an horrific childhood trauma: three 11-year-old boys are squabbling in the rough streets of Boston, when a cop car pulls up and orders the kids into the car to “teach them a lesson” about fighting in the streets. Only they are not cops, and while Jimmy and Sean recognize something isn’t quite right and refuse to get in the car, the fearful Davey does. He escapes from his abductors four days later, but none of the three escapes unscathed from the incident. The guilt-ridden Sean grows up into a cop with a broken marriage, Jimmy hones his street smarts into becoming a criminal legend, and the severely-damaged Dave carries around “the Boy Who Escaped From Wolves” in his head while trying to be a good family man.

They’ve gone their separate ways, but Sean, Jimmy and Dave cross paths tragically when Jimmy’s lovely 19-year-old daughter is beaten to death on the eve of her secret elopement. Sean must investigate a murder which brings him face-to-face with his childhood fears, Jimmy must decide whether to return to the coldblooded past he had shunned for his family’s sake, and Dave encounters his “Wolf.” But Lehane doesn’t stop there. He gives us Jimmy’s wife Annabeth, a stoic and strong-willed woman who is sister to a vicious clan of thugs and Jimmy’s “foundation,” and Dave’s wife Celeste, a cousin to Annabeth whose fear of the encroaching world and its attendant horrors undoes her.

As much a novel about the flaws that challenge us and make us human as it is about the city of Boston in which Lehane grew up and sets all his novels, Mystic River is a tour de force. As one reviewer put it so succinctly, “The lines between guilt and innocence, loyalty and treachery, justice and brutality are perpetually being smudged and redrawn,” forcing one to look inward and test oneself against the moral ambiguities in today’s world. Without giving anything away, I will say that the very end of the novel was deeply disturbing—as it was meant to be—and clinched Lehane’s brilliance for me.

Valyruh’s#CBR4 Review #93: Remembering Sarah by Chris Mooney

A well-done psychological thriller about a man trapped in a stifling marriage but deeply in love with his 6 year old daughter. At the beginning of the novel, Mike Sullivan is struggling to give his daughter the sense of independence that his fearful wife will not allow. He takes Sarah to the town’s sledding hill in the middle of a snowfall, and loses her there—finding only her sled and her glasses, which Sarah cannot manage without. A manhunt for the little girl and the man who was seen taking her yields nothing, and five years later, Mike is going through the motions of a life, working with his best friend Bill as a contractor, his marriage long dead, and nothing but guilt and rage to keep him going.

Mike himself is the product of a traumatized childhood, where his father was a thief, a bully, and a wife-beater who struck fear in his son. His mother abandoned the family when Mike was just 9, and to this day, Mike is convinced that his father killed her. He hasn’t spoken to his father since leaving home in his teens. Mike believes that his attempt to give Sarah the toughness and independence he felt children need to survive led to her abduction, and he is ravaged by guilt. He is also driven by the need for revenge, and has centered his attentions on defrocked priest Francis Jonah, also suspected in the disappearance of two other girls before Sarah. No evidence can be found against Jonah, however, and so he lives in the center of town with 2 bodyguards, a restraining order against Mike (who once tried to beat him to death), and terminal cancer.

On the fifth anniversary of Sarah’s disappearance, evidence pops up implicating Jonah, but before the police can move on him, he is found hanging from a tree, a recording of Sarah’s 6-year-old voice playing at its base. The police move to close the case but Mike can derive no satisfaction from Jonah’s suicide, and begins to dig deeper. Against all odds, he ultimately unravels not only the conspiracy behind Sarah’s disappearance, but also the mystery behind the decline of his marriage and the truth behind his own mother’s disappearance decades earlier.

Mooney’s novel is tautly scripted and suffused with strong emotion. His central character is a tormented soul who finds solace only when he lets go of his preconceptions about the people—and the world–around him. Read closely, Remembering Sarah offers a lesson to us all.

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