Dennis Lehane, the Dorchester native who writes for print, television, and the movies, and who calls his own work “a bizarre bastard child of pulp and literary influences,” launched his latest novel, “Since We Fell,” last week.
His decision to write as a female protagonist, Lehane says, presented some challenges—“There were moments when I was seeing through ‘guy goggles’ ”—but, for the most part, he says, he doesn’t feel hemmed in by gender or race when constructing his characters; identification comes with irreverence.
“The characters I understand are the outsiders,” Lehane says. “The square pegs in a round hole,” an archetype Lehane himself identifies with, saying it’s for this reason that people become writers.
Simply enough, though when the idea for the novel popped into his head, Lehane says, it was from a women’s point of view, so he went with it.
“Since We Fell” charts the life of Rachel Childs, a television reporter who loses her career and her sanity after suffering a nervous breakdown on a live report from a ravaged Haiti. Living with agoraphobia in subsequent years, Childs manages to find happiness in her second marriage, until a chance encounter on the streets of Boston shifts her reality from one of relative peace as a shut-in to one of duplicity, deceit, and murder.
One-part page-turner, one-part social critique, and intertwined with notions of privilege and feminism, “Since We Fell” comes at a time when, Lehane says, people in this country feel very “cast off” and aware that the “American dream is something you buy your way into.” He adds: “Very ugly things are afoot right now.”
Born and raised in Edward Everett Square, Lehane says he misses the closeness of Dorchester, but he doesn’t know if it’s there anymore, since the people he knew growing up might have all moved away.
Returning to Boston is always a painful experience for him. “It’s like running into your great love on the street, the one who you broke up with,” Lehane says of his initial reaction to arriving back in the city. “And she looks damn good. And happy.”
Lehane now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Angela Bernardo, and their daughter, where he is working with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, and Ben Affleck on big screen adaptions of his novels. DreamWorks has already acquired the rights to “Since We Fell,” with Lehane penning the script.
The single best decision he’s made in his life, though, Lehane says, was leaving Boston, a move that allowed him to put the old neighborhood—which he returns to in his writing over and over again, especially in works like “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River” —in firmer perspective. Dorchester gets mentions throughout “Since We Fell.”
After he left his hometown, at 20 years of age, to become a writer, Lehane says he was a “heat-seeking missile,” with a focus on success that others told him was “scary.”
Now, more than three decades later, Lehane says that he’s “absolutely, wholly stunned” that anybody pays him to write stories. “I wake up every day,” he says, “and continue doing what I love.”