Sin, Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy, is “a fact as practical as potatoes.” A better tagline for Gone, Baby, Gone could hardly be found. Few novels in recent memory have captured the desperateness of the human condition with such stark, soul-wrenching coherence.
The story centers on two Boston-based detectives and their investigation of a little girl’s kidnapping. A word of warning, then: this is a dark and incredibly raw book. Think hard before you pick it up. It is calculated to unsettle, and it will.
You may recall the moment in Blood Diamond when Mr. Kapanay laments that his heart always told him people were inherently good, while his experience suggested otherwise. The characters in Gone, Baby, Gone are confronted with the same problem. It’s relatively easy to hold on to comfortable notions about man’s nature when you’re draped across an easy chair, tobacco in hand, philosophizing like there’s no tomorrow. But all of that? All of that has the staying power of pipe smoke next to the horrors going on in the real world, outside your cozy cogitator’s den.
Redemption is needed, and oh, how great it must be. Where then shall we seek it? Better schools, some say. Redistribution of wealth. Improved parenting methods, perhaps. Lehane dashes such thinking to the ground with a single question, uttered by a baffled and grief-stricken protagonist:
We’re the richest, most advanced society in the history of civilization, and we can’t keep a kid from getting carved up in a bathtub by three freaks?
Keep your schools, your money, your parenting methods. The ugliness lies deeper, much deeper. So deep, in fact, that nothing less than the death of the Son of God could reach it. To trust in any other solution is like slapping a band-aid on a corpse and expecting it to get up and walk.
“Hell of a world,” one character observes, and it isn’t just a throwaway line. Hell of a world indeed. Who can deliver us but the One who descended into Hell and lived to tell about it?