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[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
Dennis Lehane
The Given Day
HarperCollins

Rating: 9.5/10 ?


November 10, 2008
I'll admit to being only a cursory fan of Dennis Lehane; the type prone to watching film adaptations of his work like Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone and familiar with a few of his richly detailed short stories. Beyond the theater and a few college classes, however, something about Lehane's books being tagged as "mysteries" kept me at bay. Subconsciously my aversion may have been a simple case of literary snobbery, or perhaps the result of never having found myself wanting more when watching the movies (save for the moment in Mystic River when Sean Penn's wife suddenly comes out of the woodwork and I found myself wondering if her character was so spectacularly underwritten in the novel; obviously a passing curiosity as I've still never read the book). Either way, my past exposure to Lehane failed to prepare me for The Given Day.

Lehane's newest novel, published this fall by HarperCollins, is the first of his works to venture into Literature, capital "L" emphasized. It does so somewhat ambitiously I might add, with a grandiosity that permeates every chapter and every character twist. History is woven tightly into The Given Day's fabric and, to some extent, Lehane delivers his world with a certain roughness, stripped of the generic gloss that typically mutes the facts for history classes.

The plot of The Given Day follows two men, one white and one African American (perhaps the only clichéd device throughout this plot), as they make their marks upon the annals of Boston history. On one side of Lehane's cultural divide is Danny Coughlin, the son of a respected police captain, who finds himself slowly gravitating towards the ideals of the Boston Social Club, the local policeman's union. Luther Lawrence is a black man on the run from Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city of which Lehane gives a detailed construction, certainly one that I had never conjured when thinking of Oklahoma then or now.

In an effort to root out the radicals and bomb throwers of the era, the police department places officers on undercover duty, and in time the traditionalist Danny begins sympathizing with some of the local worker's rights groups. His perspective altered, Danny of course in turn begins seeing the Boston Police's own strife through the eyes of the agitators he's supposed to be bringing down. As workers continue to organize and the police continue to counterbalance their efforts, the characters' stories begin to overlap when Luther, having landed in Boston, works on a remodeling job (for what would become a headquarters of the NAACP) in exchange for room and board, only to find himself targeted by a rogue and corrupt member of the police force close to the Coughlin family.

Richly and intricately composed, The Given Day is one of those books that begs for a limited synopsis, lest potential readers be deprived of the feverish, page-turning curiosity that comes from only the most compelling of storylines. Throughout the book Lehane blends in threads of Boston's history, showing an outside perspective of what were tumultuous times; there is Babe Ruth on his way to becoming the Sultan of Swing (gasping at members of the Chicago White Sox meeting with known fixers), Attorney Generals in a bar fight, and the Boston police force itself organizing to strike.

Spoilers aside, the historical context of The Given Day echoes our own time in intriguing ways. During and after WWI Americans saw the cost of living climb and the median income fall while an era of unprecedented tax breaks and supposed "trickle-down" economics came to a close. One can't help but sympathize with the police force, stretched to the limit with the added pressure of an influenza outbreak while most were deprived of even the most basic medical benefits. Of course that sympathy quickly turns to dismay when, driven to strike, the police stand down as mobs rampage through the streets and rape and murder and mayhem rule the neighborhoods of Boston. When the rioting stops, all manner of social and political corruption propels Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge towards national notoriety, leaving behind a bad taste that only the grayest issues of the world can provide. The simple facts of the early 20th century (a time before everything from penicillin to reliable telephones) are enough to tear any reader's heart in two; with Lehane's likeable characters to buoy the clash of ideals, and a vivid picture of a corrupt and selfish society collapsing into chaos, the anguish is all the more acute.

As with any great piece of historical fiction, particularly one of this depth and ambition, The Given Day is a catalyst for endless Wikipedia searches. This book is so stuffed with facts and memorable characters that one can't help but want to know where the story ends and the history begins. (Along with encyclopedias, I suggest reading A City in Terror by Francis Russell). Remarkable in its scope and structure, The Given Day is like a literary gift that keeps on giving.

BONUS: A "visual journey" of Lehane's Boston.

Reviewed by Cory Tendering
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Cory Tendering

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