The Given Day offers a glimpse into America’s past
August 24, 2011 Leave a comment
I’ve said it in my reviews of Boston-based movies like The Fighter or The Town, but there’s something about stories set in that city that draw me in – that’s what happened with The Given Day by Dennis Lehane.
When I saw this one the first thing that caught my eye was the time period – post-World War One America (mostly Boston). I thought I’d give it a try because I haven’t read too many books from that era and I’ve enjoyed Lehane’s writing (Mystic River is one of my favourite books).
The novel follows the two storylines. The first is that of Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer. He’s caught in a battle to follow his father, Captain Thomas Coughlin’s wishes and rise through the ranks with his guidance and sway on the force, or be his own man and join the less popular, but more righteous fight to unionize the force (BPD strike, 1919)
The second storyline follows Luther Lawrence, an African American man who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. After getting a chance to start a new life with his pregnant girlfriend in Tulsa, Oklahoma he gets caught up in the wrong crowd. Eventually Luther has to escape, by himself, to Boston where he finds work with the NAACP and Danny’s father, Thomas and on a mission to turn his life around.
In Danny’s story, I enjoyed the insight into how the Police operated as individual departments, and how officers were treated. In 1919, officers were expected to provide protection without question while going underpaid, living in dilapidated rooming houses and working with very little time off, among other issues. The powers that be justified it by saying they were public servants and should just accept it. It’s so astonishing to see how far as a society we’ve come. Unions now hold all the power in cases like the Police force, and the public servants are far better off than many private citizens.
Luther was a character I kept rooting for. No matter how much he wanted to succeed, some innate negative force just kept pulling him back. As soon as he thought he’d escaped his problems in Tulsa and was doing the right thing in Boston, Eddie McKenna, a dirty cop and friend of the Coughlin family decided to dig into Luther’s past. Over time, Luther became stronger, and through his relationship with Danny he developed the strength necessary to overcome – though it wasn’t by taking the high ground, necessarily.
My favourite part however, was a side story featuring baseball great, Babe Ruth. Throughout the book, we’re given a fictional glimpse into what his life may have been like during his time with the Red Sox. At the beginning, however, he comes upon Luther playing a ball game with some African American players. Ruth, along with other major leaguers having broken down in Ohio on their train ride to Boston, play a pickup game that leaves the two men with sour tastes in their mouths, and Ruth with lasting memories of Luther.
The Given Day is a lot to take in, in terms of storylines, but it’s such an appealing read. Lehane’s writing is full of imagery and the words jump off the page and take you back in time. At 733 pages, it’s a bit of a time consuming read, but I enjoyed every second of it. The Given Day gets a 4/5.