three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
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A-The Given DaySet against the Spanish influenza epidemic, the Boston molasses disaster, a May Day leftist protest turned violent, and culminating in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, The Given Day gives individual and collective voice to the devastating violence and unrest during the last years of World War I. Danny Coughlin, the son of an influential Irish police captain, is a beat cop in Boston’s Italian North End who infiltrates an anarchist group only to realize he empathizes with the workers’ movement. Luther Laurence, a black athlete who leaves his pregnant wife after he kills a black mob leader in Tulsa and flees to Boston, finds work in Danny’s home. With their sympathies aligned, they form a friendship and struggle, in the face of forces larger than themselves, to define their life’s paths.
William Morrow. 704 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0688163181

New York Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"He has written a majestic, fiery epic that moves him far beyond the confines of the crime genre. … The Given Day is a huge, impassioned, intensively researched book that brings history alive by grounding the present in the lessons of the past." Janet Maslin

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"That Dennis Lehane … sustains that [high] level of play—if perhaps sometimes slipping on an almost clumsy cleverness and a certain under-the-breath condescension—is what gives The Given Day a kind of greatness. … It’s a simple story, but it is also possibly the most basic of stories: Know yourself and you know everything worth knowing." Randy Michael Signor

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The author brings to The Given Day many of the same attributes that make his crime novels stand out: sympathy for the vulnerable, a strong blue-collar ethic and love for Boston’s ethnic groups—especially the Irish. … I’d call it Lehane’s masterpiece, but he’s still young and, it is devoutly to be wished, ready to give us much more." Adam Woog

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"[It] is as much a thriller as any of Lehane’s previous work. … But The Given Day never seems crammed with ideology and never loses sight of the story." Oline H. Cogdill

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Meticulously researched and rich in period detail, it pulls the reader so rapidly through its complex and interesting story that it’s easy to lose sight of its shortcomings. But they are there, and they arise from the uneasy balance Lehane strikes (whether consciously or not) between the conventions of suspense fiction and his larger literary ambitions, as well as from his awkward attempt to connect a famous historical figure of the period to his fictional characters." Jonathan Yardley

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Like the special effects in action movies, [the major events] are overloaded with spectacular details that bring things paradoxically to a stop by their high-velocity bashes and crashes. … The Given Day, along with its virtues, suffers badly from overwriting and, above all, overplotting." Richard Eder

Entertainment Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Plowing through this 700-page behemoth, you’ll be impressed by factual details and entertained by the likes of Babe Ruth. … Lehane has tried to write a gripping novel and honorably fallen short." Jennifer Reese

Critical Summary

Lehane illustrates impressive versatility at crossing genres in this grand historical novel. Still, while the most enthusiastic reviewers compared Given Day to the best by Doctorow and Dreiser, more cited it as a sweeping—but at points horribly overstuffed—novel. Certainly, Lehane did extraordinary research on the xenophobia, racial tensions, and labor unions of the era for his compelling set pieces. However, some of his efforts at recreating that history—such as introducing figures like Emma Goldman, W. E. B. Du Bois, Herbert Hoover, and especially Babe Ruth at various junctures—felt gimmicky to some. Other reviewers cited Luther’s story as the more compelling narrative strand. What is not in doubt, however, is Lehane’s deep sympathy for the blue-collar ethic. If he falls short in some areas, he nonetheless captures a "powerful moment in history. . . and makes the most of it"(Washington Post).