I love Dennis Lehane novels and even had the chance to meet him years ago in Chelmsford, Massachusetts of all places. Gone Baby Gone and A Drink Before the War enticed me with their and gritty realism. Mystic River made me aware of a brutal side of my native Boston and a culture of silence. Shutter Island was creative, chilling, and brilliantly done. In all of these novels, I loved the characters, learned something, and the endings surprised me. Big time.
Then I read World Gone By. It’s a rugged gangster tale set in 1940s Miami. Its main character, Joe Coughlin, is a smart, savvy, and oddly compassionate goodfellow. A vision leads Joe to believe that his death is imminent, and he takes strides to avoid it. Like Dennis’s other novels, World Gone By speeds along. There is a business deal gone awry, and an affair with a prominent politician’s wife as beleaguered Joe desperately tries to save himself, his son, and his best friend. I love the bad guys in World Gone By, and feel strongly that I would’ve loved the good guys—if there had been any.
It’s clear that Joe is going to die, but the question of who does it adds to the mystery. I even naively hoped for a happy ending, but after all, it’s a Dennis Lehane story.
Then, just before the last chapter, I predicted Joe’s killer, and felt terribly let down. I wanted to feel a Shutter Island chill, but all I felt was disappointment. I almost closed the book at that point, and only read the ending to confirm what I knew was going to happen. I expected a lot, because I had always gotten a lot, but World Gone By didn’t deliver.
As a writer, I would like readers to ignore it when I don’t meet their expectations, but it doesn’t work that way. Readers choose our books from among millions of possibilities, and we need to put all we can onto each page. Sometimes it may not be enough, and our fans have a right to complain. When we feel the sting of a bad review, it should make us work even harder on the next story.
So Dennis, I still admire you, adore your prose, and envy your twisted mind, even though World Gone By didn’t meet your standards: for when a writer sets the bar high, their next story needs to be as good as, or better than, the last one.
A woman of Eastern European heritage, Ursula grew up on a dairy farm in central Massachusetts, and became a high tech engineer. Her stories have appeared in Everyday Fiction, Spinetingler Magazine, and the widely popular Insanity Tales andInsanity Tales II: The Sense of Fear (October, 2015) anthologies. She is the coordinator of the Nashua chapter of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, and a winner of their regional fiction contest. Recently, Ursula was named Marketing Director of The Storyside, a book marketing and publishing cooperative.
Her award-winning debut novel, Purple Trees, available in print and Kindle, portrays rural life in the story of a naïve girl who must grow up fast to find work and build a future, when the weight of the past threatens everything she loves.
Ursula taps her Lithuanian heritage in her second novel, Amber Wolf, a saga of love and war. After her mother is murdered in the torment of the Russian invasion of 1944, Ludmelia Kudirka flees to the safety of the forest. Vowing vengeance, Ludmelia joins the partisans fighting for freedom in a David-and-Goliath struggle against the mighty Soviet war machine. Amber Wolf will be available in 2016.
While her roots are in rural New England, Ursula has traveled widely. She lives with her husband in Massachusetts, and has a daughter in college. Ursula scuba-dives, swims, and is an avid hiker.
Visit Ursula’s popular Reaching Readers Blog on her website () for flash fiction stories, and information about upcoming appearances and publications.