Monday, September 22, 2008

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

The Given Day was one of the most interesting and complex books I’ve read in a long time. Most central to this book is the story of Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer caught before, during, and after the famous 1919 Boston Police Strike. Alongside him are a vast array of characters, from dirty politicians to his two closest confidants who hide a sordid past, and everything in between.

Also just as important to the novel is Luther Lawrence, a black man on the lam from Tulsa, Oklahoma after being blind sided by being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The lives of Luther and Danny intertwine to create a captivating story of friendship that defies race, economic status, and social norms. Luther is perhaps the warmest character in the book, and he comes to confront his past with honor and courage when a lesser man would have run.

The final integral character is Nora, a young lass that’s run away from her hopeless life in Ireland. Her past catches up with her just as she almost finds happiness, nearly destroying her life once again.

The lives of these three characters weave their stories within the lives of police officers, co-workers, family members, neighbors, politicians, and anarchists to create a vivid portrait of so many historical events that occurred in 1919 including the mind boggling Molasses flood, the May Day riots, and ultimately culminating in the city-wide Police strike that brought the city to a grinding halt with out of control crime and riots everywhere.

These three characters manage to extricate themselves from the situation pretty much intact, but the cost is high, almost too high at times.

This is an epic novel, which should be of great interest to fans of historical fiction, Boston history, early NAACP history, as well as the labor movement. Although there was little sunshine in this long 700 page novel, if you can tolerate that, you will probably come away with a greater appreciation for the brilliant crafting of this famous time period in the history of Boston.


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