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Two writers with national followings and regional anchorings Dennis Lehane and Maile Meloy will read from their newest novels this week at Salt Lake City's The King's English Bookshop.
The mystery writer whose novels are often set in gritty Boston neighborhoods will read this Sunday afternoon from the just-published "Since We Fell." It's a story about Rachel Childs, a rising star at a Boston TV station who fights to rebuild her life after she falls apart on air while covering the Haitian earthquake.
"[Lehane] remains one of the great, diabolical thriller kings who seems intimately acquainted with darkness and can make it seep from the page or screen," Janet Maslin wrote in a New York Times review last month. An O magazine reviewer termed Lehane a master plotter and the book a "slow-burn thriller."
A handful of Lehane's previous novels have inspired movies with name-brand directors, including "Mystic River" (Clint Eastwood), "Shutter Island" (Martin Scorsese) and "Gone Baby Gone" (Ben Affleck, who also starred). He also has written for TV's "The Wire" and "Boardwalk Empire," while viewers might recognize the writer from playing himself on ABC's "Castle."
In an email interview, Lehane talked about the book's theme and central characters, as well as how the story is linked to his earlier novels.
What central character or scene inspired this story?
Rachel Childs. She came to me as a woman who was both profoundly brave and profoundly frightened. Frightened to the point, in fact, where she develops agoraphobia and can't leave her apartment. But brave to the point where, as a reporter, she once filed her stories from war zones. I like central paradoxes in my main characters, and Rachel certainly had one of those.
What will longtime readers find in this story that links to your previous work?
What links it to previous works is a fascination with questions of identity and abandonment and the spiritual restlessness that besets most of my characters. Plus it's about violence, both physical and emotional. What was different was that it's not set in the working-class world of most of my books and the protagonist is female.
What themes in the book surprised you as the story developed in the writing?
Themes always surprise me because themes bubble up as you write; you don't start with them. So as I started down the road of the book, it became very much about a woman on a search for her paternity, which led to a search for her identity, and then, in the final stages, it became about her search for what lay at the heart of herself after she suffered a mental breakdown and developed agoraphobia.
What should readers know about the central female character?
She's very courageous when the book begins. She's dogged and intrepid and takes a job as a reporter, which seems perfect for someone of her character. But then things go terribly wrong in her life and she is forced to reclaim that brave person she once was or she'll never make it to the end of the book alive.
Meloy's literary works are often rooted in small-town Montana, where she grew up. Several of her stories inspired the 2016 Sundance-screened film "Certain Women." In 2007, she was included in Granta's list of Best Young American Novelists, while she most recently published the middle-grade Apothecary trilogy.
She's the sister of The Decemberists' frontman, Colin Meloy (who, with his wife, Carson Ellis, wrote the young-adult series "The Wildwood Chronicles"); an aunt, Ellen Meloy, was a noted nature writer based in southern Utah.
In Salt Lake City, Meloy will be reading from her new novel, "Do Not Become Alarmed," a literary page-turner about children who are kidnapped while their families are on a Central American cruise. "Mothers worrying about how loss changes everything how if they take their eyes off their kids for a second they won't be safe was one of the overwhelming thematic weaves for me," Meloy said in an email interview.
The book is about "well-meaning people who think they've worried about everything so none of it can happen, who get blindsided by something they didn't expect," she says. "I started with Liv wondering whether to have children, and thinking that to do so is to open an account at the heartbreak bank. Having kids is such a reckless and beautiful act of optimism."
The writer began the story six years ago, but got stuck, plotwise, after her young characters were kidnapped. Instead, she turned her attention to writing "The After-Room," the final book in the Apothecary trilogy.
Why did you want to write about families and loss?
I think fear is a big part of being a parent. The world seems very dangerous, but you have to live your life and give your children confidence and let them learn from mistakes. The way for me to think about that fear and dramatize it was to have the terrifying thing happen let the kids get lost and see where that might go.
What sets this book apart from your earlier work? Were you writing in a different register or thinking of a wider audience?
I do think that the plot-devising part of my brain had gotten stronger from writing kids' books. I tried to combine what I knew about writing for adults about character and language and interiority with what I'd learned from writing for kids about plot and the need to keep things moving. I like a fast-moving story anyway, but I think writing kids' books made me better at it.
Issues of class and race are woven through the novel. How did these characters' differences come to influence the story?
I knew the different families would have different ideas about how much safety they could assume from the police and otherwise and that would affect their experience of the crisis and the way they thought about each other.
The mothers become contrasts. How were you thinking about their similarities and differences as the story unfolds?
Nora has lost her mother as the book opens, and Liv hasn't. That's a big difference in itself. Grief alters you, and it seems that when you lose a parent you cross over into an emotional state that's hard to imagine from the other side.
The mystery writer ("Mystic River" and "Shutter Island") reads from his latest novel, "Since We Fell," about journalist Rachel Child, who rescues herself after an on-air breakdown.
When • Sunday, June 4, 3 p.m.
The literary writer ("Liars and Saints" and "A Family Daughter") reads from her latest novel, "Do Not Become Alarmed," about three families whose lives are upended when their children are kidnapped during a Central American cruise.
When • Wednesday, June 7, 7 p.m.
Where • The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Info • Free; call 801-484-9100 for information