Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting off the island

I first encountered Dennis Lehane via the movies -- specifically, Mystic River. I liked it very much, which elevated Lehane into the book-before-movie category (not every book gets this nod). So, I raced through all the Kenzie-Gennaro books ('cause I got to read in order) before watching Gone Baby Gone, and now -- after finishing Shutter Island, I can now watch that movie. (... which should be an interesting experience, coming to it knowing the story's many twists and turns.) I am glad I listened first, there would be almost no point in seeing the movie and then reading this book.

It's September 1954, and two U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, find themselves on a ferryboat making its choppy way across Boston Harbor to a remote island that houses the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. A mother who murdered her three children, Rachel Solando, has mysteriously disappeared from her locked room and there appears to be no trace of her on the island. Daniels and Aule have never worked together, but Daniels soon confesses that he has an ulterior motive for taking this case. Another patient, Andrew Laeddis, is a serial arsonist who caused the death of Teddy's beloved wife two years earlier. Teddy has been deeply grieving ever since and has vowed to revenge himself by killing Laeddis.

Once they begin their investigation, Daniels and Aule soon realize that there is something a lot more sinister than a vanished murderess going on on Shutter Island. Secret codes and rumors of government experiments in mind control arise and the Marshals are warned away from the island's lighthouse. Plus, a hurricane [this image of Hurricane Edna's journey up the East Coast is from Wikimedia Commons] is coming -- wiping out all communication with the mainland. Soon, the men are separated ...

... and you suspect that your mind is also being messed with, big time. The claustrophobic atmosphere -- in the form of hospital cells, underground caves, facilities dark without electricity, whispered conversations, sidelong glances, and the confines of an island in the middle of a storm -- is another character in the novel. Teddy's sense of dread is palpable -- both waking and in the vivid dreams he has. Like Teddy, the reader has to keep pursuing the mystery but the paranoia and anxiety make it a fairly terrifying journey. Fairly early on, you know -- you know! -- that something is not quite right, but I really loved the fact that even when it is all explained to you (in a slightly too expository section) ... you can't even be quite certain of that explanation. Delicious!

Tom Stechschulte (STECK-shull-tee) reads the novel. I've heard of him, but had never listened to him read until now. (No particular reason beyond his books and my taste not meshing.) He's very, very good here. There are a boatload of characters here, and Stechschulte creates and keeps them all completely human (even the crazies). He reads Teddy in this gravelly baritone that is just barely holding it together, while Chuck is the wisecracking sidekick with a slightly higher voice. The primary doctor, Dr. Cawley, alternates between menace and professionalism. The women sound authentic, with Stechschulte reading in not so much higher tones, but lighter ones. He has the opportunity to turn on the vocal dramatics portraying several patients -- mostly notably one named George Noyce, who shouldn't even be on Shutter Island, and a deeply scary inmate who escaped his cell when the power went out.

The novel also affords Stechschulte the opportunity to throw out a few accents: There's Teddy's slight Boston broad vowels, a Nazi-sounding German doctor, along with several black orderlies with a fondness for poker. He's confident and consistent with all of them.

I listened to this one quite fast -- just three days. It's just like a book where pretty much everything else in your life comes to a halt because you just have to keep turning the pages. Well worth the lost weekend. I wish they were three days long [sigh].

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Narrated by Tom Stechschulte
Recorded Books, 2003. 9:45

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