"Boston beat cop Danny Coughlin longs to step out of the shadow of his father, a legendary police captain. But his resolve is put to the test when he attempts to infiltrate the bands of anarchists and radicals threatening the city. Caught up in a vortex of change, Danny becomes entangles with an Irish immigrant maid and makes the acquaintance of Luther Laurence, a black man on the lam after a murder in Tulsa. Touching on such historic events as the Spanish Influenza pandemic and the Boston Police Strike of 1919, the Given Day is Lehane at his finest" -- from container.
My problems with this novel start with sprawl - it is too long, with false starts and loose ends. The historical setting requires too much explanation, too much didactic narrative. The text is out of time - the characters do not have authentic historical voices. They have transcendental and anachronistic insights into their role and place in history - which weakens the novel. I would call it a flawed success.
Lehane's most interesting period piece in the book is the interludes featuring Babe Ruth who played for the Boston Red Sox at the time of the police strike. The opening vignette with Babe Ruth in a pickup game of baseball with a group of black ballplayers could stand alone as a classic baseball short story.
Overall the book is a tour-de-force for Lehane and one that establishes him as a foremost American author. Highly recommended.
The end of the 19th century saw the beginnings of organized labor in the US--certainly the beginnings of demands for reduced hours (the 80 hour week was pretty standard) and better pay. Labor unrest continued into the 20th century and gave rise to the labor movement and the beginnings of unions. The post-World War I era saw increased agitation, along with a new phenomenon--the rise of anarchism in the US, carried out by mostly southern and central Europeans immigrants, both legal and illegal.
Lehane sets his story in this era. There are two main protagonists: Luther Lawrence, a black man living in Cincinnati who has been laid off from his job at a munitions factory in order to make room for returning (white) veterans, and Danny Coughlin, a Boston policeman, whose immigrant father is a highly respected captain on the force. In addition, there is Babe Ruth--still with the Boston Red Sox, just before his meteoric rise to fame. The book is filled with beautifully-drawn portraits of the working class, poor, immigrants, and politicians of the time. Especially powerful are the African-Americans and their lives in various cities; at that time, there were some enclaves of prosperous, “respectable” black families. And there is the appearance of a lawyer for the Justice Department, a man by the name of John Hoover.
What was absolutely fascinating was the history of the anarchist movement in the US at that time. I had no idea it was that strong. Coming from a strong union family, I knew more about the repression of the labor movement, but Lehane goes into great detail about the use of the Boston police as strike breakers.
Until the day came--September 9, 1919--when the police themselves went on strike. The description of the days of rioting that followed is surpassed only in the account of the cynicism displayed by the then-governor of Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge, who went on to become one of the worst Presidents the US has ever had, in a long line of bad Presidents. The consequences of that action reverberated far beyond Boston, and Lehane is brilliant in telling the story.
Many other threads are woven in, such as the expansion of the NAACP into Boston and the politically savvy of its leaders. The book is a wealth of tidbits of such historical information; clearly the time was one of tremendous ferment on the social and labor front, and the US responded typically--with repression.
Ruth as a protagonist and narration from his point of view is somewhat puzzling, except to give an alternative view of events and the time. But in my opinion, the ending of the book is weakened by his inclusion in the story line. Eliminating the last 5 pages would have strengthened the impact. But that’s a minor complaint. The book is well-written and Lehane is an outstanding story- teller. Highly recommended.
The pace of the book is perfect. There is just enough action to give you a fix offset by beautiful narrative descriptions of the period. Fans of historical fiction should be prepared to have this book stuck to their hands until the end. The characters are very real and instantly likeable or hated. Dennis Lehane shows us how times have changed in America and also how some issues sneak back in, even in today’s society.
I strongly recommend this book. This is how historical fiction should be written.
Surprised how violent this book was.
The book’s main flaw is some of the characters, particularly protagonist Danny Coughlin. Clearly the author wants us to like him, and towards that end has given him social attitudes — particularly on race — more suited to the early 21st century than the early 20th. That damages his believability as a historical character, although the raising of his consciousness about labor and his realization that he is a natural leader give him an interesting trajectory. Similarly, some of the antagonists — particularly Eddie McKenna — are too unrelievedly vile, almost cartoonishly villainous. In Luther Laurence, Lehane created a flawed but likeable character who is credible as a man of his time; it is unfortunate that not all the characters are as successfully three-dimensional.
Despite these reservations, I would recommend the novel to anyone who enjoys Lehane’s work or who is interested in the history of Boston, organized labor, race relations, or baseball.
But while The Given Day is fun and fascinating, it doesn’t offer much beyond the plot. The protagonist, Boston policeman Danny Coughlin, is the kind of stock conflicted hero who can never arouse much empathy in the reader. And while the events leading up to the strike and the strike itself are interesting, the story seems to transcend the mundane and become memorable at only one point—a scene of children flying kites from rooftops during the devastating Spanish flu epidemic. The rest is forgettable brawls and bombings. Which brings up another criticism—for all his skill at plotting and dialogue, his descriptive prose sucks. He simply doesn’t have the capacity for the kind of focused, hyperreal language that a book with this much action demands. Too often I was left out of seemingly exciting scenes by their clumsy execution.
None of this is to say The Given Day is a bad book, because it’s one of the better I’ve read in a while. But for all the nights it kept me up burning through its meaty length, the flaws stick out to me now more than the strengths, and it hasn’t grown in my mind the way really brilliant novels do.
Overall, a solid historical fiction period piece packed with enough historical material to captivate some readers of the genre and in particular readers with an interest in 1918-1919 Boston. Well written but not the page-turner I was hoping it would be.
Following this criteria, Dennis Lehane’s new novel “The Given Day” is undeniably great, since it is a reflection on the past that also speaks quite loudly about the social and political events of the current day. In fact, “The Given Day” is an astute political and social commentary, which is not surprising considering Lehane has spent the last few years writing for the brilliant HBO show, “The Wire”. Just as “The Wire” shined a light on the political and social implications of the inner city drug trade in Baltimore, “The Given Day” focuses on these same implications in the immigrant communities of Boston in 1918-1919. Terrorism in the Boston immigrant community has a foremost role in the novel, and it is in these parts that most readers will most readily grasp the similarities to current American events. Furthermore, other issues tackled in the novel like racism, class division and exploitation of labour are still pertinent to the American social structure.
Danny Coughlin is a patrolman in the Boston Police Department. He comes from a well-respected family where his father is the powerful and tough Police Captain Tommy Coughlin, a self-made man and survivor. Various immigrant groups in the Boston community are organizing at the time, spouting rhetoric that runs from unionism to progressivism to communism. Eventually, Danny finds himself involved against his families’ wishes in the Boston Social Club, a group of Boston police, who are striving to unionize. Danny must overcome harsh political resistance to the Boston Social Club’s newfound activism, treachery and estrangement from his family and the woman he loves, Nora.
Luther Lawrence is an incredibly gifted baseball player, a man that leaves Babe Ruth, who stumbles across Luther playing, stunned by his athletic prowess. But Luther is a black man, and not only baseball, but the world, is still a white man’s game. Luther is starting to build a life in Tulsa with his pregnant wife, Lila, when an unexpected confrontation forces him to flee Tulsa, leaving behind Lila and his unborn child. He eventually finds his way to Boston where Isaiah and Yvette Giddreaux take him in. Isaiah Giddreaux also gets Luther a job as a houseman for the Coughlin family. While working for the Coughlins, Luther befriends both Nora and Danny, who are instrumental in helping him navigate the racism and violence he encounters in Boston.
Lehane has written a powerhouse of a novel, vast and Dickensian in scope and filled with intelligent social commentary without any cloying melodrama. The pace is astonishingly brisk which makes the novel a real page-turner, which is quite a surprise considering “The Given Day” clocks in at around 700 pages. The main characters have tremendous depth, evolving beautifully along with the story. They sincerely breathe, filled with life and ambition, doubt and deceit, love and hate. I cared about the plights of Danny, Nora and Luther and their seemingly futile struggle against an unfair world.
“The Given Day” is an incredible achievement, an immensely engaging, brilliant and entertaining novel infused with a well-crafted historical milieu, an astute world-view, radiant and believable characters and tight plotting. The social and political aspects of the story will reverberate with today’s reader, provoking further thought and awareness of American society. It is one of the very best novels of 2008.
Someone is bound to call it “sweeping” because it feels sweeping, but it’s not. It’s a microcosm of two men set in 1918-1919 Boston. I grew up outside of Boston 50 years after this novel was set, but I can speak to it’s authority, change came slow to New England in those days and much was still the same 50 years later.
This book was a real change and gamble for Lehane, with the exception of Shutter Island (set in 1954) all of his novels have been set in a present, yet undefined, time. This gamble pays off in spades, as it is apparent even without looking at his acknowledged source material, that he’s done extensive homework. Yet his writing stays true and the turns of phase that I love are still present now regarding the beginnings of unions, baseball, anarchists, Massachusetts political twists and turns, race, love, family, particularly Irish family, and changing attitudes towards all of the above.
“This country,” his father said, with one of the many smiles in his collection, this time the wry one. “Everyone thinks it’s okay to hire on for work but then sit down when that work turns out to be hard.”
The primary focus is on Luther, a black man who comes to Boston on the run from Elsewhere, and Danny Coughlin and the rest of his family. The characterization is masterful, but most successful in the Irish characters. The plot moves right along with just the right amount of twists and turns. It’s an absorbing page-turner even at 700 pages.
I almost completely and wholeheartedly loved this book I re-read Mystic River once a year, and now I’ll be re-reading both Mystic River and The Given Day once a year. I only have two nit picks and they’re small ones. There are people who are blessed with an ability to “read” other people with an ease that awes the rest of us, but they’re rare. You’re lucky to find one of these people in a lifetime, but there are easily 3, maybe 4 of these people in this book. It stretches the credibly a bit. Also, I could have done without the Babe Ruth bits, but I guess if you’re talking about Boston at that time, you HAVE to mention Babe Ruth. I don’t find them particularly interesting or successful and they slow the pace down a little.
All readers should have the opportunity to give one book more than the standard five stars. The Given Day would be my choice. The writing in this book is excellent and the research is obviously extensive. I would deem this to be the best book I’ve read in a long time.
This is the story of Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer, and Luther Laurence, a black man who is running from some trouble in Tulsa, Oklahoma. These are characters you will come to know and care about a great deal. The story begins in 1918 in Boston, a time of unrest with the end of the First World War and the influenza plague. Police worked long hours for very little pay in terrible conditions. The reaction to Bolsheviks and anarchists, who were labeled terrorists, is relevant to today’s world. Dennis Lehane paints a picture of racism, hatred and distrust.
Mr. Lehane has worked historic people, such as Babe Ruth and Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, into the story. The stories about Babe Ruth sparked many interesting conversations as half my family are Boston Red Sox fans and the other half New York Yankee fans. I learned quite a bit of history from reading The Given Day. It is so captivating that I wanted to find corroborating material on the Internet as I was reading. For instance, I had never read about the East St. Louis race riots.
This is a stay up late, can’t put down book. When it is published in September I believe that it will fast become a bestseller. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read this book.
Danny's and Luther's story is set in an America undergoing upheaval as the war ends. Blacks who had been working were fired to give jobs to the returning white soldiers. Big Business reigned. Workers' unions were only beginning to develop, and were viewed as the tools of Anarchists and Communists. The NAACP was in its infancy and had not yet become a true force.
Lehane has done a masterful job of portraying social, political and family life of the time, and developing characters who grow and whose personalities and actions ring true. As the narrative culminates in the failed Boston Police strike of September, 1919, Danny's involvement in the union organizing and the strike has repercussions that ripple through his family and affects the lives of his friends. Yet, the work ends on a note of hope, and this reader hopes that Lehane will see fit to write a sequel to his engaging historical novel.
This book was received from LibraryThing under the Early Reviewers program. As Dennis Lehane went to college in my area, I was very interested in reading his book about the early 1900’s history in Boston, Massachusetts. This writer returns frequently to the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading that takes place every October.
There are not enough words to description this historical saga of two families with a side story line of Babe Ruth. This country was built on the backbone of immigrants and it is very sad that the discrimination that is outlined in this book continues until this day.
Why are we always so afraid of new people and why do we think we are better than the ones coming after us. So clearly does the writer lay before us the lesson that we can get more accomplished by working together and not trying to screw our neighbor? When will we ever learn that everyone can contribute?
How quickly we judge our fellow man by his color, his heritage, and his political beliefs. It was eye opening to read Lehane’s narrative about an Irish policeman Danny Coughlin just trying to make a living but ending up getting involved in the beginnings of a union. The story line of Luther Laurence, a great baseball player who is not allowed to use his talent in a sport much loved by Americans.
I liked this book so much, I recommended it to my East Lake Community Library Book Club and it is the book to read for this October. This is a book that makes history alive for the reader.
The city and country is beset with labor unrest and political upheaval. Although the labor movement is gaining steam, many associate it with the "Reds", i.e. anarchists and Bolshevik-leaning radicals. The police are unhappy with their wages and working conditions and have formed a quasi-union that is clamoring for the city of honor pledges made before the war to improve their situation. Danny's father is opposed to the idea of a "union" and tries to enlist Danny to spy on the meetings. Danny had encountered a couple living in his apartment who he finds out are anarchists bent on violence; his interactions with them form a strand of the story. Danny does some undercover work for the police against several leftist groups.
Danny and Nora have a past which is keeping them from a lover's relationship. This, too, plays out during the book. Luther is befriended by Danny and Nora and his story shows the difficulties faced by black men in white society in Tulsa, Boston and in the nation. There is mention of race riots in East St. Louis and Chicago in which white mobs victimized black residents. Luther lived in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, a highly segregated part of the city. This is interesting because Tulsa had one of the most violent and bloody attacks on a black community in American history. This occured in 1921, after the novel's time period was over.
Danny begins to sympathize with his fellow officers over their grievances and becomes a leader in the union movement. The ultimate decision to strike turns out (as history has recorded) to be disastrous for the city and the striking officers.
The novel is populated with historical figures. A young "John" Hoover is from the US Bureau of Investigation. Hoover, as was true throughout his actual career, is obsessed with rooting out the "reds" who he believes are bent on destroying the American way of life. US Attorney General Mitchell Palmer also appears in the narrative; Palmer was infamous for his persecution of leftists following WWI. Calvin Cooledge was governor of Massachusetts and the national acclaim he attained from breaking the strikes, leading to his nomination as Harding's vice-president, is true history. Babe Ruth also shows up, not as a participant in the labor strife, but is used as a witness to the events unfolding in Boston. The depiction of the "Babe" is a nice touch.
The story captures the early 20th century unrest in the working class and the beginnings of the growing power of the labor movement. The push back of the capitalist power elite against left-leaning entities was aimed at thwarting the attraction of socialism to the working classes. In the view of the capitalist elite, there was a close connection between the "reds" and the labor movement that was challenging the hegemony of the monied barons of the era. I am somewhat familiar with the history of public sector unions. Many labor historians conclude that the Boston police strike retarded the establishment of public sector unions for decades after.
The novel is a bit longer than it needed to be, but it's a fast read.
Even for non-historians, I believe this would be a highly enjoyable book. Lehane’s writing style makes this a difficult book to turn down, and the story line is filled with drama and suspense.
When I opened the book, it was daunting...700+ pages seemed overwhelming and I wasn't sure I would get through it all. Next thing I knew, I was halfway through and totally absorbed in the story. I finished in a much shorter time period than I thought possible.
Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite authors. This is not his normal genre (historical fiction), but it was better than I expected. The book was simply outstanding. A finely crafted story with wonderful characters that I will not soon forget.
This book is a must-read. Don't worry about the length of the book. After the first 25 pages, you'll be hooked. I hated for it to end.
The Given Day is a historical novel set in Boston prior to and during the Boston Police Strike of 1919. It is a story of two families of the time, with curious appearances by Babe Ruth throughout the novel, on the periphery of the action. I found this distracting, since I could not understand the relevance of Ruth to Lehane's story.
Danny Coughlin, a Boston cop from a powerful family, and Luther Laurence, a black man fleeing the law, move the plot forward towards the Police Strike. Their independent struggles and connections with each other make an interesting story. I learned about a historical period and event that I know little about. But ultimately I was disappointed. I want Lehane to supply mysteries and solutions, preferably by Kenzie and Gennaro.