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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane


Rating: (Recommended)


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Islands of the Mind

Dennis Lehane’s new novel, Shutter Island, will leave some readers thrilled with multiple twists and turns, and leave other readers frustrated at the confusion between perception and reality. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9, pp. 122-7:

They found the stones about a half mile inland as the sky rushed toward darkness under slate-bottomed clouds. They came over soggy bluffs where the sea grass was lank and slick in the rain, and they were both covered in mud from clawing and stumbling their way up.

A field lay below them, as flat as the undersides of the clouds, bald except for a stray bush or two, some heavy leaves tossed in by the storm, and a multitude of small stones that Teddy initially assumed had come with the leaves, riding the wind. He paused halfway down the far side of the bluff, though, gave them another look.

They were spread across the field in small, tight piles, each pile separated from the one closest to it by about six inches, and Teddy put his hand on Chuck's shoulder and pointed at them.

"How many piles do you count?"

Chuck said, "What?"

Teddy said, "Those rocks. You see 'em?"


"They're piled separately. How many do you count?"

Chuck gave him a look like the storm had found his head. "They're rocks."

"I'm serious."

Chuck gave him a bit more of that look and then turned his attention to the field. After a minute, he said, "I count ten."

"Me too."

The mud gave way under Chuck's foot and he slipped, flailed back with an arm that Teddy caught and held until Chuck righted himself.

"Can we go down?" Chuck said and gave Teddy a mild grimace of annoyance.

They worked their way down and Teddy went to the stone piles and saw that they formed two lines, one above the other. Some piles were much smaller than others. A few contained only three or four stones while others had more than ten, maybe even twenty.

Teddy walked between the two lines and then stopped and looked over at Chuck and said. "We miscounted."


"Between these two piles here?" Teddy waited for him to join him and then they were looking down at it. "That's one stone right there. Its own single pile."

"In this wind? No. It fell from one of the other stacks."

"It's equidistant to the other piles. Half a foot to the left of that one, half a foot to the right of that one. And in the next row, the same thing occurs again twice. Single stones."


"So, there're thirteen piles of rock. Chuck."

"You think she left this. You really do."

"I think someone did."

"Another code."

Teddy squatted by the rocks. He pulled his trench coat over his head and extended the flaps of it in front of his body to protect his notebook from the rain. He moved sideways like a crab and paused at each pile to count the number of stones and write it down. When he was finished, he had thirteen numbers: 18-1-4-9-5-4-23-1-12-4-19-14-5.          I

"Maybe it's a combination," Chuck said, "for the world's biggest padlock."

Teddy closed the notebook and placed it in his pocket. "Good one."

"Thank you, thank you," Chuck said. "I'll be appearing twice nightly in the Catskills. Please come out, won't you?"

Teddy pulled the trench coat back off his head and stood, and the rain pounded him again and the wind had found its voice.

They walked north with the cliffs off to the right and Ashecliffe shrouded to their left somewhere in the smash of wind and rain. It grew measurably worse in the next half hour, and they pressed their shoulders together in order to hear each other talk and listed like drunks.

"Cawley asked you if you were Army Intelligence. Did you lie to him?” 'I

"I did and I didn't," Teddy said. "I received my discharge from regular army."                                                 "How'd you enter, though?"                        I

"Out of basic, I was sent to radio school."

"And from there?"

"A crash course at War College and then, yeah, Intel'."

"So how'd you end up in regulation brown?"

"I fucked up." Teddy had to shout it against the wind. "I blew a decoding. Enemy position coordinates."

"How bad?"

Teddy could still hear the noise that had come over the radio. Screams, static, crying, static, machine gun fire followed by more screams and more crying and more static. And a boy's voice, in the near background of all that noise, saying, "You see where the rest of me went?"

"About half a battalion," Teddy shouted into the wind. "Served 'em up like meat loaf."

There was nothing but the gale in his ears for a minute, and then Chuck yelled, "I'm sorry. That's horrible."

They crested a knoll and the wind up top nearly blew them back off it, but Teddy gripped Chuck's elbow and they surged forward, heads down, and they walked that way for some time, bowing their heads and bodies into the wind, and they didn't even nonce the headstones at first. They kept trudging along with the rain filling their eyes and then Teddy bumped into a slate stone that tipped backward and was wrenched from its hole by the wind and lay flat on its back looking up at him.






A tree broke to their left, and the crack of it sounded like an ax through a tin roof, and Chuck yelled, "Jesus Christ," and parts of the tree were picked up by the wind and shot past their eyes.

They moved into the graveyard with their arms up around their faces and the dirt and leaves and pieces of trees gone alive and electric, and they fell several times, almost blinded by it, and Teddy saw a fat charcoal shape ahead and started pointing, his shouts lost to the wind.

A chunk of something passed so close to his head he could feel it kiss his hair and they ran with the wind battering their legs and the earth rising up and chunking against their knees.

A mausoleum. The door was steel but broken at the hinges, and weeds sprouted from the foundation. Teddy pulled the door back and the wind tore into him, banged him to his left with the door, and he fell to the ground and the door rose off its broken lower hinge and yowled and then slammed back against the wall. Teddy slipped in the mud and rose to his feet and the wind battered his shoulders and he dropped to one knee and saw the black doorway facing him and he plunged forward through the muck and crawled inside.       

"You ever see anything like this?" Chuck said as they stood in the doorway and watched the island whirl itself into a rage. The wind was thick with dirt and leaves, tree branches and rocks and always the rain and it squealed like a pack of boar and shredded the earth.   

"Never," Teddy said, and they stepped back from the doorway.

Chuck found a pack of matches that was still dry in the inside of the pocket of his coat and he lit three at once and tried to block the wind with his body and they saw that the cement slab in the center of the room was empty of a coffin or a body. either moved or stolen in the years since it had been interred. There was a stone bench built into the wall on the other side of the slab, and they walked to it as the matches went out. They sat down and the wind continued to sweep past the doorway and hammer the door against the wall.

"Kinda pretty, though, hub?" Chuck said. "Nature gone crazy, the color of that sky. . . You see the way that headstone did a backflip?”

"I gave it a nudge, but, yeah, that was impressive."

"Wow." Chuck squeezed his pants cuffs until there were puddles under his feet, fluttered his soaked shirt against his chest. "Guess we should have stayed closer to home base. We might have to ride this out. Here.'

Teddy nodded. "I don't know enough about hurricanes, but I get the feeling it's just warming up."

"That wind changes direction? That graveyard's going to be coming in here."

"I'd still rather be in here than out there."

"Sure, but seeking high ground in a hurricane? How fucking smart are we?"

"Not very."

"It was so fast. One second it was just heavy rain, the next second we're Dorothy heading to Oz."

"That was a tornado."


"In Kansas."


The squealing rose in pitch and Teddy could hear the wind find the thick stone wall behind him, pounding on it like fists until he could feel tiny shudders of impact in his back.

"Just warming up," he repeated.

"What do you suppose all the crazies are doing about now?"

"Screaming back at it," he said.

They sat silent for a while and each had a cigarette. Teddy was reminded of that day on his father's boat, of his first realization that nature was indifferent to him and far more powerful, and he pictured the wind as something with a hawk's face and hooked beak as it swooped over the mausoleum and cawed. An angry thing that turned waves into towers and chewed houses into matchsticks and could lift him in its grasp and throw him to China.

The differences between appearance and reality are themes rampant in literature. Lehane tackles them with great skill in Shutter Island, and if it’s a psychological novel that suites your fancy this Summer, be sure to read this one. Open the shutters of your mind, and let Lehane in.

Steve Hopkins, June 21, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the July 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Island.htm


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