by J.L. Abramo
Most of what I know about Boston, Massachusetts—and everything I know about Dorchester—I have learned from Dennis Lehane. Like Loren Estleman’s Detroit, George Pelecanos’ Washington D.C., James Ellroy’s Los Angeles, and Charles Dickens’ London—Lehane’s setting, his home town, is as compelling a voice as that of any of his characters.
The fourth book in the series, Gone Baby Gone, was made into a film directed by another Boston son, Ben Affleck. Again, in the novel and in the film, the setting was an integral part of the action. When asked in a New York Times interview which adaptation of his work he most favored, Lehane said:
I grew up in a Brooklyn where you were defined by the neighborhood you came from—Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Dyker Park, Midwood. In Lehane’s world, differences in background and experience could differ from parish to parish, the Catholic school you attended, who your parish priest happened to be, what your father did for work. And in his work, Lehane can be that specific when writing Boston, Dorchester and the local parish.
When I saw the film The Drop, I was unaware until the closing credits that it was based on the Lehane short story, Animal Rescue. The film was set in Brooklyn, a Brooklyn this Gravesend native could feel and taste—Lehane nailed it.
I had always seen a little of Brooklyn in Lehane’s Boston—as I had seen a little of Brooklyn in a small film set in Philadelphia called Rocky. Working class Irish and Italian-Americans in large east coast cities have striking resemblances.
What intrigued me, however, was how a short story set in Dorchester became a film set in Brooklyn and later a novel set once again in Boston.
Lehane satisfied much of my curiosity in a 2014 interview in conjunction with the opening of The Drop.
Lehane said he had stayed away from adapting his own work—he likened it to a surgeon operating on his own child. However, he saw expanding a short story as a different exercise—so he agreed to adapt Animal Rescue.
According to Lehane, the producers felt Boston was somewhat played out in recent crime films—Mystic River, The Departed, The Town. Lehane responded: Okay, just give me another world that is similar where I can set it. Brooklyn was suggested. He investigated various neighborhoods in Brooklyn and decided, This will work, no problem.
The first word of the short story Animal Rescue is 'Dorchester'. The film, The Drop, is unmistakably set in Brooklyn. In the novel, The Drop, which followed on the heels of the film, the words Boston, Dorchester, and parish never appear—but we know, without question, that Lehane has brought his story back home. To the place that surely inspired him—if not forced him—to write.