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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also authored several short stories such as "The Devil's Comedian", "The Devil v. George W. Bush", and most recently "Wait Until Tomorrow". He resides in New Jersey. Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: michaelreyes72@hotmail.com

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: "Shutter Island" by Dennis Lehane

I've added a new feature to the reviews. Instead of pesky links that send you to the book's official purchase site every time the title's pops up, I figured I'd instead format the cover art as a hyperlink. Simply put: if you want to buy a copy of the book, click the cover art. Simple, no? Also, stay tuned at the end for an announcement.

Shutter Island, you bastard you. You sneaky, thieving, unassuming bastard. Indeed, it's been a slightly long and winding road with this book, dating back to early 2009; but here we are in 2010 and I've finally conquered the bastard. The story goes something like this: after it was announced as the next Scorsese/DiCaprio project, my friend Kyle bought a copy of Shutter Island after seeing the trailer last summer. He read it, he enjoyed it, and he teased that the mystery of "Who is Patient 67?" was one that was so twisted not even he picked up on it. With the PR push for this movie in swing not too long after that recommendation, I bought myself a copy before the film's original release date of October 2009, with the intent of having it be something my girlfriend and I would read and discuss. Being the nice guy that I was (and being in the middle of another book at the time) I let my girlfriend take the first crack at unraveling the mysteries of the titular Massachusetts mental hospital. Sure enough, once she'd finished the book she too had been seized by "The Twist!". I was told I had to read this book at once.

Which brings us to about right here. As everyone knows, the film's initial release was postponed to the new release date of February 2010 (Up in the Air's Oscar push and economic worries were both cited as reasons why, though nothing was ever made concrete), and along with it I postponed my eventual reading of the source material. Until my girlfriend and I realized the movie was coming out, at which time I decided if I was going to see the film I might as well read the book. But there was that one thing lurking in my mind, the one thing that always lurks in there when I encounter a work such as this...I wanted to guess the twist. Even before I'd read it, I kept guessing at it.

"Teddy's patient 67?"

"It's all taking place in Rachel Solando's head?"
"You're never going to guess it."

"The island doesn't exist, and he burned his wife alive?"
"Keep reading."

Indeed, I was hounded by my sweet caring other half to "keep reading" the book in order to get to the twist, every single guess being rebuffed as a delusion that I knew what the author was doing. Upon finishing Shutter Island, I learned that some of my guesses were indeed close, others were spot on but missing details, and others were not even in the same country as the truth.

This might be redundant if you've seen the movie, read the book, or lived in a normal amount of social/media exposure; but seeing as it's the critic's job to set the scene, here's the basic plot. (If you're already up to speed, skip to the next paragraph.) Federal Marshalls Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are sent to investigate the facility on Shutter Island, a mental institute where only the most dangerous and criminally insane call home. Once on the island, we're informed that a Ms. Rachel Solando, a woman who's locked up for flipping out and drowning her kids, has escaped on the island. Our marshalls are there to assist Dr. Cawley and his band of merry psychologists in securing the patient and go back on their merry way home. This being a thriller and all, the intents of all parties involved aren't exactly expressed in an explicit, concrete manner; and there's tons of facts lying in wait to be discovered by prying eyes. Also, things get weird. Really weird. We're talking David Lynch at tea with David Cronenberg weird.

If you needed to retitle this book for foreign markets (you know, the ones without shutters or islands) you could get away with calling it, "Island of the Red Herring Macguffins", due to the fact that some details or plotlines either veer off the course you've predicted or didn't matter in the first place. This is the literary equivalent of a mirrored fun house, and you're tasked with hunting down the truth as if it were Christopher Lee. Know this though: the less you know going in, the better. In fact forget there's even a twist, or if you remember that fact forget the supplementary fact that it's an "unguessable" one. As I kept guessing "The Twist!", I found that it was a slight struggle to get to the moment of revelation. One could say that this is a criticism of Lehane's work with the novel, but that's only until you get to "The Twist!".

When you get to your destination, it knocks you for a loop. You realize you haven't been lied to, you've just been cleverly misled. While other, lesser authors would have written an ending that invalidates previously mentioned (and possibly continuity flawing) plot points, Lehane writes an ending that doesn't change a thing. Everything that happened indeed happened. Everything that was seen was indeed seen. The only difference is the filter of perception that was used while looking at it all the first time is removed, showing how things really happened. It all makes sense, and the more you think back to your first reading (because you know you're going to read/experience the story again) the more things make sense. I finished the book on a lunch hour, and by time I was driving home a couple days later the story was starting to slip into place.

I've only read one other Dennis Lehane novel (Mystic River), so I don't know his voice quite yet. What I can say about his writing in Shutter Island though is that he's crafted an intricate mash up of a psychological thriller, a personal tragedy, and a film noir. Multiple readings are not only required, they're built right into the structure of the book. This is a rare breed, and it only does the book a greater justice that it's not easily duplicated or terribly derivative.

If you need an idea on what it feels like to read Shutter Island (or you didn't get the previous Bond reference), this video explains it plainly. Pretend "The Reader" is Roger Moore, "The Plot" is Christopher Lee, and Dennis Lehane is Herve Villechaize.

And now, the announcement. Back in my Cannonball Read days, we had a tradition of every now and then engaging in competitions to see who could read five books in a common area of interest the fastest. In the interest of shaking things up around here (as well as celebrating Hachette Book Company's release of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter), I've decided to embark on my own five book mini-marathon; aptly titled Vamp-O-Rama.

Starting with the current book I'm reading, the next five picks will be Vampire stories; culminating in my review of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. This was my own idea, as it is stamped with my own brand of madness. (That and I'm an attention whore who clamours for book publishers to notice anyway. So here it is, the Vamp-O-Rama Line Up!

1. The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
2. The Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo
3. Vampire Zero by David Wellington
4. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
5. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

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