Two Four-Star Novels

I recently read Andre Dubus III, The Garden of Last Days (2008) and Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island (2003) in preparation for hearing both authors speak at the Eckerd College Writers Conference that starts this coming weekend.  Each deserves four stars on a scale where four means very, very good, but not one of the top fifty books I’ve ever read in the past 50 years.

Goodreads swallowed up my original review of The Garden of Last Days after I slaved over it for quite a while. I learned my lesson. From now on I’ll write my reviews in Word and copy them into Goodreads. Actually, I’m not sure if it was Goodreads or my own computer which is the first MacBook Pro laptop to have developed artifical intelligence all on its own.  Well, maybe intelligence isn’t the right word, but my computer has a mind of its own. It jumps to off the pages I’m not or to a different part of the page and all too often it closes windows without my intending to do so.

What I said in the review is that The Garden is a fitting response to 9/11. It is a story that focuses on the fictional interaction of one of the 9/11 terrorists with a men’s club stripper––a woman whose life spins out of control when a disgruntled patron disappears with her three-year old daughter who she brought to work because her landlady baby sitter was taken to the hospital. Dubus’ portrayal of the terrorist complete with references to his upbringing, the Koran and his being recruited for this suicide mission is as convincing as it is disturbing––even a dozen years after the event. While Dubus does not paper over what goes on the men’s club, he does humanize some of those who visit and work there.

Undoubtedly more people have seen the movie version of Shutter Island than have read the book. That’s a shame because Lehane is a master story teller. He carefully presents the story of two marshalls arriving on Shutter Island to investigate a disappearance until the reader is thoroughly engaged in that version of reality. He then injects new elements that slowly shift our perception of what is going on, all the while keeping the reader committed to the protagonist’s point of view, until just when you think you know what’s going to happen, the applecart is flipped upside down.

Both authors have published recent works. Dubus III’s latest which came out late last year is a series of novellas entitled Dirty Love.  Lehane’s most recent is a thriller entitled Sacred: A Kenzie and Gennaro Novel.


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