The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a surprise! I am really surprised that a historical-fiction about Boston, Babe Ruth, and more didn't interest me more than this did.
The Given Day is a broad-ranging drama about Boston in the late 1910s. The war is ending, jobs are in demand, money is getting tight everywhere, terrorism is putting fear into the hearts of all, segregationist racism is still rearing its ugly head, and the little guy is getting the shaft.
There's a lot going on in The Given Day, maybe too much. I wasn't overwhelmed by it all, but the preponderance of historical detail bogs down the human story at the heart of this.
The Irish immigrant Coughlin family is the heart of this novel. Sticking with them through out the book might have provided a better, or at least, more concise story. But of course, you can't discuss Boston back in the day (hell, even these days) without bringing up its contentious past regarding poor race relations. So that required Lehane to create his representative of the black community, Luther Laurence, who we spend just about as much time with as we do with the Coughlins. Lehane also wanted to give us a grand vision of Boston, and the country, in the late 1910s, so he added a whole storyline with Babe Ruth, who was just coming on at the time, and who was notoriously traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees at this time, much to the chagrin of long-suffering Sox fans for the better part of a century. The problem with adding this story to the mix is that it makes the whole thing tip to the unwieldy side. Weighing in at 700+ pages, I felt every bit of it.
I'm a Lehane fan. I even really liked the sequel to The Given Day. But this one, while perfectly fine, did not suit me quite like I thought it would. Besides its length I might also cite the somewhat comical portrayals of the antagonists herein. At times they come off as Scoobie-level evil-doers.
But hey, this is Lehane and he's a damn good writer, so putting all the complaints aside, this is still a solid book. There is PLENTY to enjoy here. If you are a fan of history and want to know what was going on in Boston 100 years ago, this is a great read for you!
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