You Think You Know Somebody: Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Originally published October 2017

When you don’t really know who you are, is it that much easier to become someone new?

Rachel Childs has spent nearly four decades in that transient state of an ill-defined identity. First, as a young child of a single mother that is intent on keeping it that way. Then, as a young adult searching for her father, only to gain a stand-in and then lose that too.

Did the lack of a true father figure and a bitter, controlling mother send Rachel spiraling early?

I was hesitant to pick up Since We Fell, because while I enjoyed the angst-ridden Sean Penn movie, Mystic River, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read something so gritty.  I’m glad I got over it. Rachel is so deliciously flawed. Her mother’s insidious behavior sets the stage for her, as she doled out clues to her father’s identity so intermittently it’s a wonder Rachel had anything to go on upon her mother’s demise.

And maybe it was the protracted search for her paternal identity that kickstarted her career as a reporter. And her investigative nature that led her in search of answers as a television anchor in a devastated Haiti. And a face to face encounter with death that left her questioning everything. And, thanks to YouTube, a breakdown for the world to watch over and over again.

In some ways, it felt as if Lehane was spending a unnecessarily long time setting the stage for present-day Rachel. The Rachel now married to a man from her past, struggling to function in the present. The Rachel now faced with a mystery that could change the very nature of her existence. But the past — those relationships with her mother, her almost father, a first husband best suited for appearances but not a relationship — these built the foundation with which Rachel is working when trying to overcome debilitating anxiety. And it’s that gut sense not to trust that may just keep her alive.

At 37, is she finally going to find herself? I’ll let you read it to find out — but I’ll say this. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where the female lead so effectively turns the tables on those looking to bring her pain and misfortune. And for anyone struggling with that concept of identity, watching someone embrace theirs is gratifying, to say the least. The second half of the book reads so much faster than the first, you’ll have to force yourself to slow down so as not to miss some the crazy, crucial details. A great character study and an excellent read.

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