The Boston Irish writers: Russell, Crane, MacDonald and Lehane

I hope you’ve been following it, but in case you haven’t there’s been an absolutely ripping dialogue about real and perceived violence, urban neighborhoods, activism and the future, to name just a few topics, coursing through this blog.

The authors are my friends, fellow fathers and frequent commenters David Russell and Jack Crane.

I’ve had little to do with the exchange, other than giving Mssrs. Crane and Russell a platform to air their articulate and passionate views, both of which are informed by decades of lived experience and commitment to values.

Dave and Jack both hail from Massachusetts, and, as one might expect from their surnames, both descend from large Irish families.

The Emerald Isle has produced many great writers in its day-Beckett, Joyce, Yeats and Wilde are only four of the most well-known-and their transplanted brothers across the pond haven’t fared poorly, either.

In addition to the aforementioned blogger/activists, we’ve got Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls, his wrenching memoir about growing up in South Boston during the era of busing and a pre-fugitive Whitey Bulger.  In Coming Up From Under, MacDonald writes about the role music played in helping him get out of Southie.  The book culminates with a trip to his ancestral land with his inimitable and indomitable mother.

Dennis Lehane also has direct ties to Ireland, as both his parents were born there.

The Dorchester native and Boston College High School graduate uncorked a gripping mystery and potent, if painful, look at Boston’s Irish community in Mystic River.

I had seen the film that netted Sean Penn and Tim Robbins Oscars when it came out, and picked up the book in Rockport last week at Dunreith and my dad’s recommendation.

Dad in particular said he enjoyed the movie, but found the book much better.

I agree.

Lehane tells a riveting tale of three friends whose lives are permanently altered one afternoon when they are 11 years old.   Dave Boyle is taken away for four days by a pair of pedophiles and abused for four days before escaping, while Jimmy Marcus and Sean Devine live the haunting possibility of what could have been.

A quarter century later, each man has known additional loss.

The book begins with the murder of Marcus’ oldest daughter-an act that brings Devine back to his former haunts and that also draws in Boyle, who has since married a cousin of Marcus’ second wife (His first, the murdered girl’s daughter, died while she was in prison.).

As Russell and Crane did in their dialogue that started with violence, Lehane uses the story to tell about a neighborhood, the class divides within it, the ongoing erosion of the turf by yuppies, and the darkness that lies within so many, if not all, of us.

The result: the book almost read itself.

I found myself, in a rare occasion, putting aside my copies of Hoy to polish off Mystic River.

That you can become so engrossed in a book where you already know the outcome is impressive indeed, and that is exactly what happened to me in Lehane’s capable hands.

I’ll keep on writing and, I hope, stimulating continued thoughtful dialogue from my two friends.  In the meantime, if anyone’s looking for an entertaining and quick read, you could do an awful lot worse than picking up the fourth of the Boston Irish quartet.  Beckett and Joyce they may not be, and I’ll read with pleasure and gusto whatever they have to say and whenever they say it.


2 responses to “The Boston Irish writers: Russell, Crane, MacDonald and Lehane

  1. Oh, let’s just keep this going for a bit….

    I took a young colleague today, age 25, to visit a funky community project in the Pilsen neighborhood. My colleague grew up in Englewood, surrounded by violence, drug addiction, gang activity, family turmoil, and a desperately hopeless home. Yet, by some miracle, and waking up to the voice of a tough, in your face grandmother, she studied and caught the attention of some teachers, who obviously cared about her future. She eventually landed at Howard University, and a whole new world opened up for her. Now she works for a world class financial institution. Despite the liberation, the family pull and ties continue to be a real challenge and no small threat to her future. She must ask me a dozen questions a day about serious life choices. It took me a while to realize that she was sincerely seeking foundational stones for her promising future. So today I took her to visit some truly far out folks to shake up her childhood memories, and perhaps lay down some alternative bedrock.

    The quirky community project is an urban garden on some abandoned railroad land, nurtured by an old hippy activist and a younger former car designer, who hung up her corporate attire to work in jeans and sandals, and help transform a little scrap of land into a slice of sunflower & tomato heaven. There is now a waiting list for raised plots!

    My colleague had never seen such an urban garden, wear Mexican senior citizens pick weeds while listening to an old friend serenading them with guitar and song. She didn’t know the difference between zucchini plants and chives. It was like she had landed on some foreign planet. Within minutes, almost on cue, some of the eccentric characters (surely U. of C. Divinity school Ph. D candidates in their 20th year) meandered in the garden talking about compost and Qaddafi. And here we were, six people from completely different orbits, discussing community issues in a lushes garden set in a heavy industrial corridor.

    My colleague later commented that it was delightful to chill with very smart, kind people. I would add courageous too – hope “is” just around the corner, and can be found in even dark, abandoned lands, if nurtured by love, nothing short of profound, radical, simple love made real and alive.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      A fun and memorable experienced vividly rendered, as usual. I’m sure your colleague is glad she has you as a resource.


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