In Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, he exhibits mastery in the use of description. He makes the scene visible to the reader by creating pictures with his words. The reader visualizes Shutter Island and the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The reader explores the island facilities with U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule in their search for answers regarding patient Rachel Solando.
In a scene from the early part of the book, Teddy and Chuck ride the ferry from the mainland to Shutter Island. A beginning author might write, “They approach the dock.” Lehane wrote it, “The dock appeared as if by trick of light, stretching out from the sand, a stick of chewing gum from this distance, insubstantial and gray.” Aspiring authors could learn from Lehane’s prose.
The reader soon learns the story contains more than a schizophrenic missing murderess. It also contains deceptive twists and turns, and psychological thrills and suspense. The story scares the reader by illuminating the degree to which the mind deceives itself, and questions the reality of our own existence.
Like many of Lehane’s books, Shutter Island takes place near Boston. Lehane grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, and attended high school during the Government’s mandatory desegregation program. He grew up in a tough part of town during a troublesome era. Many of his characters come from working class neighborhoods and his stories pertain to social issues.
In Shutter Island, Lehane asks the reader to question the moral and ethical treatment of the criminally insane. Do the rights of the innocent victims demand cruel and unusual punishment of the guilty, and what determines cruel and unusual?