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Interview With Dennis Lehane, part 3

 

The other day I was astonished to find out that there was a video game for Lars von Trier's "Antichrist." So it doesn't come as such a big surprise that there is also one for Lehane's "Shutter Island." And why not, since even Lehane concedes that the novel might be a dying art form. Here's the conversation picking up at the point where Lehane responds to how some fans resented his turning to the historical epic genre for his most recent novel, "The Given Day."

DL: ...there's a part of my fan base that's just like, "God can you get over this fucking bullshit and get back to car chases and shoot-out," you know.

PK: You've said the crime novel is supplanting the social problem novel. "The Given Day" reminded me of "USA" by Dos Passos, for example, but in a different genre.

DL: Yeah, I think there's certainly a point where the crime novel very much became the social novel, particularly in the 90s, you saw this big renaissance of American crime fiction, that you saw if you believe that it happened in the 90s, what you saw there was a lot of investigating the social issues of the day, and it's sort of built for it because you're dealing for the most part, unless you're dealing with British boardroom mysteries, you're dealing with people that most people fly over or drive past, so it lends itself to the examination of social issues and hopefully not in a heavy-handed way.

PK: Certainly in "The Given Day" you're tackling questions of class and race and corruption and so forth...

DL: Yeah, I think I always write about, maybe with the exception of  "Shutter Island," I think I'm always on some level writing about class warfare. It's just, I don't know, it's sort of, you can't escape your obsession and even when I think I'm not, I am and it shows-oh there it is again.

PK: Are you politically active?

DL: I'm politically active, but I like to keep it away from my books. So, I very much never want to write like a polemic. Normally I stay away but I was very, very vocal against the Iraqi war and I've formed a group, "Writers Against the War," put out an ad in the "Times, blah, blah, blah, but I also went and I saw U2 last night and I was like, come on Bono, just sing.

PK: You must be a little more encouraged by the recent presidential election.

DL: Oh yeah, yeah. I was with a Republican last night and we were talking and he said, I just don't know what the Hell's going on with my party, if your voices are Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, you're fucked.

PK: Well they seem to be getting more attention than they deserve. There's a series connected with your appearance at the Boston Book Festival, where you're doing a panel discussion with a bunch of writers from your anthology. Also there's series on Boston Noir movies at the Brattle Theatre. Do you have a particular favorite outside the ones based on your books?

 

DL: Oh I love "Monument Ave," absolutely, it's one of the most underrated. Such a great, great movie. I love "Monument Ave" and the obvious "Friends of Eddie Coyle."  In terms of Boston noir, are we just talking Boston?

PK: Well Boston if you will, you can expand that as much as you want.


DL: The thing that I think is really interesting, cinematically that isn't appreciated at the level it should be is British noir. You know, when I think of the masterpieces of noir the first one that pops up in my head is "Get Carter," the second one is "Sexy Beast."

 

PK:  Somebody told me that they read an article where you said that when you're first starting out writing, that you taped a note in front of your typewriter, whatever, saying, "Nobody cares," in order to let yourself write what you feel you have to write. Is that still your attitude, you think?

 

DL: Well I think there's some of that, there's also, I think you should be able to, I also think of the Humphrey Bogart line, "All you owe them is a great performance," you know? And I believe that and I take that really seriously, like I'm going to bust my ass to never phone in a book  but what I don't owe you is "Gone, Baby, Gone VI," you know? I don't owe you "Mystic River III."  That's not the deal. So the "Nobody Cares" thing was really more a way, if you fail, nobody cares. It's not a bad thing. Just loosen the fuck up, stop thinking anybody's out there keeping score and that helped me so much when I was, you know, twenty.

PK: You could always go back to chauffeuring cars, right?

DL: Yeah, yeah, it was at least, do this thing, love this thing, but don't expect-it was one, you know, my father in the background just saying, "The world doesn't owe you anything," you know, so get that out of your head, which is very good, because you see a lot of writers, their response to something is "But I spent six months on this," who gives a shit? You know what I mean? "But I spent two years on this." I don't care, it doesn't work. And I think that's something when I went to a class, and they'd say, "This doesn't work," I'd throw it away.

PK: The end of  "The Given Day," it's Babe Ruth leaving Boston, and at first he's very depressed and then he says, "Well, wait a minute, I'm too big for Boston." Do you ever get the sense that that's going to happen to you someday?

DL:  No, never. Never, never. I'm trying to get back here so hard. I just married a girl who has a business in Florida and I can't look her in the eye and say, "Well I can only work in Boston," you know? All I want to do is get back here, I mean I'm here right now, every time I'm away I want to get back, this is my town, I don't think it can get bigger than this. I don't like LA, and New York's just, I don't know, it's New York, I couldn't become a Yankee fan.

PK: You could not become one?

DL: Oh good God no. No, that's hideous, no. Oh God. No I couldn't become a Yankees fan.

PK: Or New York Jets, at this point too, are really starting to bug me.

DL: I said this to my sister-in-law, who's a huge Jets fan, and I said this to her a month ago, I said, "Watch out for your Jets," and she's like, "Nah, the jerks. They're not going to do anything," and I'm like, "Watch out, I think they're going to sneak up on people, I think they're really going to do some damage this year," and bang.

PK: They have.

DL: That game was tough.

PK: It was depressing, I was waiting for that five minute comeback that they had against Buffalo and it never happened.

DL: It never materialized, I know.

PK: Well I think I've exhausted my time here, one last question. You teach at a writers' class in Florida, so you know the coming generation of writers is going to be like, or some indication, do you ever get the feeling you're a practitioner of a dying art form?

DL: Yes, yes I do. More and more every year. I hate to day it, but it's-did you see that article in the "Globe" about that, I can't even remember which school it was, that's going completely electronic, they've killed their library?

PK: No, I didn't see it.

DL: A couple of weeks ago, and you just thought, "Oh dear God, this is it, this is the end." When school's go, we don't need a library, you start to feel like, yeah, maybe I'm a troubadour, you know? And there ain't going to be a lot of troubadours in the coming years, so the feeling I get from most of my students is-not the exceptional ones-but from the vast majority is, they don't read. What they really want to do is write screenplays, but they don't know how, and they don't have any connections in Hollywood.

PK: And they'll probably start selling them too because most of the people in Hollywood don't seem to know what a good story is, what a good screenplay is.

DL: And that's the problem too, I mean you see, was it, I think it was Tony Scott in the "NY Times" who wrote about what's happening with adult movies and I believe it was in this article, they said, "If you don't know how market "The Hurt Locker," what's left?" You know? If you can't take a movie that good and that exciting and that story-strong and that character-strong and make that into at least a modest hit, then it's over, you know? You guys really only know how to sell things connected to toys.

PK: And make movies that are based on toys too.

DL: Yeah, yeah. God, it's fucking depressing.

PK: You don't have any merchandising with any of your films, right? No Sean Penn action doll or anything?

DL: Uh, you know what, there's actually a "Shutter Island" video game.

PK: Really?

DL: Yeah.

PK: I actually think that would work.

DL: There's all sorts of things with that. There's a graphic novel, there's all sorts of weird things I can't remember that came out of "Shutter."

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