Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: "The Given Day" by Dennis Lehane

Finally I read a book that I not only love, but that also helped me on the road to digging myself out of the emotional slump I’ve been in as of late. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane is a big-hearted historical novel by a writer whose staggering talents are only out-matched by how big his heart is. He brings the same level of characterization and grit to the early years of the 20th Century that he does to the threatening streets of modern day Boston, only this time he ups his literary game to a masterly level, possibly producing his magnum opus. This novel, much like The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, takes a historical event, in the case of The Given Day, that event being the 1919 Boston police strike, and crafts an elegant narrative that weaves through the lives of the haves and have-nots with the grace of an artist at the top of his level of talent, and Lehane rarely stumbles in this book, since I cannot recall a time when I was reading that I would rather be doing something else. You can be thankful it is that kind of book makes you forget about all your problems in life, and, to quote Stephen King, to be “swept up in the wings of story.” This sprawling narrative begins when a train breaks carrying the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox to the 1918 World Series. Lehane’s lens focuses on The Great Bambino himself, Babe Ruth, as he gets drunk and wanders away from the train to find a group of black men playing baseball, one of the men being Luther Laurence, one of the two central characters in the novel. Eventually, other team members come by and challenge them to a pick-up game. The game is played, in a scene that rivals the opening baseball sequence in DeLillo’s Underworld, and the pros win only through dishonest means, a commentary on race relations that haunts the Babe as we sporadically meet him a few times over the books 702 pages. Luther, after this incident, is fired from his job at a munitions plant and forced to move back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he has a wife and gets a questionable job of running numbers for a violent gangster. When things get a very brutal for Luther, he must go on the run, eventually coming to find himself in Boston in the middle of a tumultuous time. We then meet Officer Danny Coughlin of the Boston Police Department, prodigal son of Captain Thomas Coughlin, whose refusal to bend to the wills of any man (including his father) leads him on a violent, yet redemptive journey toward becoming a leader for the cause that leads to an apocalyptic few days that leaves Boston in ruins.  This is just a short, basic synopsis that does not do this juicy book justice. There are great heroes, great villains, and countless real life historical figures brought to vivid life by Lehane’s talented skills. This is truly a great book for anyone who likes getting lost within the pages of a story that allows the volume of the outside world to be turned down completely. This was a much needed, and truly awe-inspiring reading experience.
Rating: 5/5

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