"Until Gwen," the magazine's June short story by Dennis Lehane, is not your typical Atlantic story. "Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon," the story begins, "with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat." From here, Lehane slowly reveals the events that preceded the narrator's prison sentence, a past replete with murder, greed, lost love, and—if you're not hooked yet—stolen diamonds.
Has Atlantic fiction gone noir?
The narrator, a young man trained by his father to be a scam artist, has grown up on the run. His father is "a professional thief, a consummate con man" and has dragged his son all over the map, presumably to get into and out of trouble. But this lifestyle has left the narrator without a sense of identity. He doesn't know where he's from and his father won't tell. He's never held a job. He doesn't have a birth certificate. He doesn't really know who he is. Until Gwen—a young woman who loved him so much she was even willing to help him commit his crimes.
Lehane, who counts himself among "the new renaissance writers of noir," believes that crime writing is the latest manifestation of the social novel. He came to the genre, in fact, out of a desire to write about social issues. His first novel, A Drink Before the War, published in 1994, addressed racism and domestic violence, and his novels since have touched on class warfare, urban violence, and gentrification. He's interested in communities that are struggling—or, in his own words, "the sort of world we drive over on the expressway." Places characterized not only by crime, but by interesting—and sometimes devastating—social change.