Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two Thumbs Up For Dennis Lehane's "Mystic River"

My favorite Boston crime novel thus far has got to be Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. The only other Lehane novel I've read is his first, A Drink Before The War, which seemed quite slick, although I wasn't exactly sure where "The War" in the title came in. I believe I originally thought it was one of those retro crime novels set, a la James Ellroy, during the salad days of noir in the late forties or early fifties. No such luck. The main characters, however - Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro - seemed to have a kind of retro vibe going on between them, what with the cuteness of the repartee and all, sort of as if they were Nick and Nora, except with Boston accents. As I say, I appreciated its slickness, but it did not hit me the way Mystic River did. The latter novel evokes notions of "tragic irony" and "poetic justice" as affectingly as any American novel I've read in recent years. Jimmy Marcus's daughter is murdered by the sons of a man he himself murdered (but who did not know their father was dead, and did not kill the girl for that or, really, any other reason). Meanwhile, Jimmy murdered his old friend, the molestation-haunted Dave Boyle, under the mistaken impression that he had killed his daughter, when Dave, in fact, had killed someone else - a child molester. The plot twists contained therein were reverberant and (at least not to my dumb-ass Irish brain) not entirely predictable, making for a satisfying and deeply poignant ending. I liked the movie, too. I even liked the idea of Dennis Lehane and Clint Eastwood discussing the screenplay in the Union Oyster House. The very image of these two extremely distinct, and also very different, looking dudes sitting across from each other totally begs for a Hirschfeld caricature. However, I did have some issues with the casting. Sean Penn and Tim Robbins are superb actors, but these guys were well into their forties when Mystic River was made and they're supposed to be playing guys in their mid-thirties. Granted, hard-living working class guys can age quickly, but in this climate they aren't even remotely the kind of wrinkly-browed, leather-faced dudes that hard-partying Hollywood bad boys get to be by their fifth decade. Lots of Bostonians I know in that age bracket (their thirties) are even downright fresh-faced, almost like scaled-up versions of their own children. We don't get that much sun up here, guys! I was also somewhat amused by the complicated ethnic paranoia that compelled the makers of the movie to change the name of Jimmy Marcus to Jimmy Markham (apparently to Irish-ize a name that could easily pass as Jewish) when he was played, of all things, by an actor with an Irish-sounding name, AKA "Sean Penn", who himself happens to be half Jewish. Keeping the name Jimmy Marcus would have been just fine. All sorts of ethnic groups have historically contributed to both working class life and criminal lore in Boston, and having a multiethnic dramatis personae would not have hurt the movie one whit - or offended any minority either. Still, two thumbs up for Mystic River, both book and movie.

Dennis Lehane (Wikipedia)

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