Nothing like vacation to catch up on some pleasure reading. That and I’ve finished my books for Narrative&Interp and only have one left to read for London – oh, and there’s my Presidency biography. So, when packing my bags to come home for Thanksgiving, I threw in a couple of the novels that have been looking pretty in the First Book Box (long story).
On the train home, it was a gray day and I was in the mood for something gripping, something twisty, and something I could burn off maybe even by the time I got home. While that last bit didn’t happen (I’d been up til 3am painting a kitchen, so I was a little tired when I woke up at 9 to get to South Station for my 11am train), I still finished the book within the day – in short, it was exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been interested in reading this book for a while now. The (vaguely) Boston setting and the upcoming (though unfortunately delayed) Scorsese/DiCaprio film were big selling points – also, people’ve been saying I should read Dennis Lehane. So, again, we’ve got a perfect storm combination here.
This is one of those books where I’ll try to avoid spoilers until the last paragraph – its just TOO good of a twist and since the movie is coming soon, I don’t want to spoil the plot for any non-readers. It starts off “innocently” enough: two Federal Marshals called to an asylum for the criminally insane that’s located out in Boston Harbor. I think, as a freshman, our Welcome Cruise probably went right past the islands where Ashecliffe was supposedly located. Anyway, a hurricane is bearing down on the island and when it hits, everything (not surprisingly) goes to shit. The main character, Teddy Daniels, is perfect for DiCaprio (I’m sorry to keep referencing the movie, but this part really suits him – I pictured him the whole time). He was likeable and you were rooting for him – especially as shit started to swing against him.
The novel is very atmospheric. The secrecy that shrouds the island and the plot seems to seep out of the book and surround the reader. I like books like that. I found myself having a devil of a time putting this book down, even as my eyes were drooping shut (always the sign of a great read) and the minute I’d wake up again, I’d jump back a page and dive in again. The novel felt very 1950s and while the hints surrounding the “experiments” on the island have a bit of that early anti-Communist paranoia about them, none of this is very distracting. To be honest, the novel reminded me most of some of those great Gothic novels of the late 19th/early 20th Century. Stuff like The Haunting of Hill House or even We Have Always Lived in the Castle. That sense of creepiness that raises the hackles on the back of your neck for the entire time you are reading it.
Character-wise, its very strong. Teddy is a great (vaguely unreliable) ‘narrator’ – its third person, but we’re in his head a fair amount. The characters of the island – all of them – seem just this side of evil. Like they’re plotting behind your back but then again maybe not but wait maybe…. Meanwhile, Chuck is the perfect partner for Daniels and they work well together. Even though they’re new partners, there’s that immediate camaraderie. It all clicks and the fact that it all clicks so fast for the reader is what sucks you in so quickly.
What I can say pre-spoiler-alert about the plot is that it is pitch-perfect. People might see it as a little far flung, especially once the ending hits, but I found it to be just the right amount of twisty. There wasn’t too much and I didn’t find anything too ridiculous. Meanwhile, it never got boring and there was always something you were curious about. In this sense, it reminded me a little bit of the old Myst-like computer games, where you’re trapped in a spooky house or something and even when you’re confused or lost there was always something to look at or examine to keep you going. It was like that – the spookiness, too.
Alright, SPOILER ALERT
So the twist. I didn’t see it coming, to be totally honest. I mean, I’m pretty good at picking up on things (even if its only a few pages before the reveal). The fact that Teddy was, in fact, Laeddis (or viceversa? it was all a little – purposefully – confusing) and that he was a patient… WOW. It was out of left freaking field. That the doctors themselves would set up the entire charade in order to try and “cure” him – that, too, was stunning. Again, that ’50s sensibility just is so alien to us today. This was a masterful twist and the fact that, at the end of the novel, I had to go back to the prologue in order to figure out for sure who was telling the truth (Teddy or the doctors)… it was quite well done. Bravo.
To Sum Up: an awesome Gothic mystery, full of interesting characters and mystery. Read it, read it, read it – it’ll take you maybe a day (because you can’t put it down) and while you might be a little unnerved by the end… it’s well worth it.