Monday, February 1

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (spoilers)

Beware! For here there be spoilers...

I bought The Given Day by Dennis Lehane with a gift card because I have such respect for him. I thought Mystic was one of the very best books I'd ever read. One of the reviews for this book said that The Given Day "may be Lehane's finest work." Another compared it to John Dos Passos's U.S.A. That might be accurate but to be honest, I thought Mystic was and still the finest of Lehane's books.

It's set in Boston, circa 1918-19. The central focus is supposed to be on two characters, one black and one white. In the beginning, the chapters alternate between the two. When they finally meet, there isn't as clear a distinction and then new characters begin to have the limelight. The latter half of the book started to fall apart for me a little at that point, to be honest. Part of the time, I'd think: why are we reading about you? In one way, I could understand because these characters played a part in what happened later but ... maybe it would have been better to focus on them more from the beginning?


Luther Laurence is black and hails from the midwest. He and his long time sweetheart are expecting a baby and he's laid off. They have to move to her relatives' to make a new start and they marry. Unfortunately, Luther falls in with some shady characters and eventually has to make a run for his life. He goes from Oklahoma to Boston, Massachusetts.

Danny Coughlin is a dedicated young cop. His father's a police captain and his brother is an assistant district attorney. He was involved with Nora, who holds a sort of mysterious role in the family--not quite servant, not quite family. In the beginning, he is all about being a public servant and has no interest whatsoever in unions or other forms of "Bolshevism".

Luther and Danny meet and become friends because Luther ends up working for the Coughlin family.

I really liked Luther's character. He is basically a decent, hard working young man who just wants to do right for himself and his family. He's constantly battered by racial bigotry and a couple of really evil, ugly characters. The first one he encounters in Oklahoma. The second, a police lieutenant, is by far a particularly nasty villain. I shudder just thinking about the guy.

On the other hand, I didn't care much for Danny. I suppose he's just a reflection of his times but I found him to be something of a hypocrite and weakling at first. He is moony over Nora--but the reason they're not together is because of her "sordid" past. He wants a "respectable" woman. Nora was sold to her husband "in the old sod" at the age of thirteen. She abandoned him to run to America. It turns out later she also abandoned a stepson. Well ... so? But the way Danny (and later, the whole family) carries on about this "sordidness" made me sick.

The other issue I had with Danny was his feelings about the police union. He was such a "company" man his father and godfather trusted him to infiltrate "Bolsheviki" groups and report back to his superiors with information. Along the way, though, Danny learns that all protestors are not terrorists. He becomes active in the labor movement for policemen. All that in less than a year. Really? Amazing.

All of these characters and events are moving toward one big cataclysm. There are some very powerful scenes there.

Throughout all of this, there is a thread: Babe Ruth. Actually, it's pretty cool the way Lehane adds in snippets from Babe Ruth's story and his rise to fame.

All in all, a very good book that I would recommend highly to anyone who likes to read, especially historical fiction!

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