The Given Day

The Given Day

by Dennis Lehane

Overview: Dennis Lehane, the New York Times bestselling author of Live by Night—now a Warner Bros. movie starring Ben Affleck—offers an unflinching family epic that captures the political unrest of a nation caught between a well-patterned past and an unpredictable future. This beautifully written novel of American history tells the story of two families—one black, one white—swept up in a maelstrom of revolutionaries and anarchists, immigrants and ward bosses, Brahmins and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power at the end of World War I.

Deanna Boe (03/24/18): THE GIVEN DAY, written in 2008, was a gigantic undertaking depicting life in the city of Boston during the closing days of World War I. It is Lehane’s first historical fiction which unfolds over the course of 700 + pages. It is a fascinating book based on true events, and historical figures like Babe Ruth (of all people!), Calvin Coolidge (Massachusetts governor and later U.S. president), and John Hoover (later referred to as J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.)

The storyline’s two main characters are Danny Coughlin (whose father was the Police Chief of Boston,) and Luther Lawrence (who was hiding out in Boston to escape problems from Tulsa, Oklahoma.) Danny represents the white Irish who immigrated to Boston, whereas Luther is a black man from the South wanted for murder. How could they possibly become close friends?

Luther, amazingly enough, secures a job working as a type of handy man for the Police Chief, or Danny’s father, which obviously provides that connection. Danny has been given the job of going undercover to try and break up the “socialistic unions.” The unions were filled with people who believed in the Marxist philosophy. In becoming involved with all of this Danny does realize that the police force does have a legitimate complaint about their pay, hours they work, uniforms they have to buy, and other conditions in which they work. In short, his going undercover backfired.

The style of this book is unusual in the sense each “section” starts with a portion about Babe Ruth, for instance the prologue is all about Babe riding the train going to Boston to play the final four games of the 1918 World Series. This section is titled “Babe Ruth in Ohio.” Here he meets the black character, Luther, when the train breaks down and he watches Luther and a black team playing baseball. The second section is “Babe Ruth and the Workers Revolution.” The third section is “Red Summer.” The fourth section is “Babe Ruth and the Summer Swoon.” The final section or 40th chapter is “Babe Ruth goes South.” It is a clever way to tie in things happening not just in Boston but outside of Boston and why not with a famous person like Babe Ruth?

Throughout the book there are many questions and few answers just like life today in the United States. For instance after the street fights in Boston concerning the unions Danny realizes that life would never change. In the streets throughout the world poor people were fighting for their fair share and Danny could no longer do it since it simply wasn’t going to happen. Even though the “higher ups” looked at them as the “lunatic Irish and the lunatic dagos” how was it going to change? Instead of the Irish and dagos in Boston, we now have the Hispanics, and Muslims. What will come after them? How will mankind learn to accept each other? Learn to realize we need each other? Remember, this book was written in 2008 and is about life during and just after World War I or 100 years ago. What will we be against 100 years from now?
Rating: ****

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