Saturday, April 11, 2015

My 1st Dennis Lehane - and It's a Good One

Remember when I made a deal with family friend Hannah to read the YA fantasy, The Wishing Spell (Hannah had to read The Illuminator's Gift, by Alina Sayre)? Well, I did it again.  This time it was with Bonnie, who came to my table at Recycle.  We got to talking, and we agreed that she would read Michener's The Source (1 of my top 3 all-time, with Pillars of the Earth and Shogun), and I would read Dennis Lehane's The Given Day.  We had 3 months, which is coming up the end of April.  I made it.  And she was right.  This is a really good book.

The story takes place in 1918-19.  There are 2 main characters - Danny Coughlin, who is a Boston policeman, and the son of Thomas Coughlin, a very well-respected captain in the Boston Police Department; and Luther Laurence, a black man who, when we 1st meet him, is living in Ohio.  The 702-page book (a true historical fiction epic) goes back and forth between the 2.  Except that there are several sections about Babe Ruth, including the 1st 26 pages, when Babe happens upon a baseball game in Ohio that he gets involved in. This part was extremely cool.

I would have to say that Lehane (who I have never read before, even though he's written books that have become popular movies - Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River, and Shutter Island) has created indelible characters, both positive and negative.  In fact, one of the negative ones, who is a BPD lieutenant, is literally one of the most loathsome characters I have ever read.  And I don't say that lightly.  He did something that simply stunned me. Now, that's indelible.

And what's one of the highest compliments I can give Lehane?  He reminds me of Greg Iles.  The Given Day is very similar to Iles' Natchez Burning - in scope and impact.  And you all know that Iles is one of my very favorite authors.  And that I gave Natchez Burning a 3.75/4!  This one would have been a 3.75, but it dragged a little bit in a couple of places. Still, a solid 3.5/4.

Besides having such well-developed characters - Danny Coughlin, Luther Laurence, Babe Ruth, Thomas Coughlin, Eddie McKenna, Nora, Tessa, and more - I had an amazing reaction to one scene between Danny and his dad.  I chuckled, shed tears, and got chills at the same time.  And although I don't consider myself to be particularly perceptive and self-aware, I swear that I was conscious of all 3 emotions.  You know how an author will say that she saw love and hate in his eyes?  Well, I always thought that it was kind of impossible. Maybe now I'll be a little less critical (maybe!).

There are so many places in the book where I had a strong reaction.  At one point I said " oh man oh man."  And I appreciate that Lehane gave a detailed explanation about unionization and labor strikes, which both play a big part in this book.  I have to say that I really didn't understand much about all of that.  And because it's 1918, there are a lot of stories woven around the infiltration of Bolsheviks and anarchists, immediately following the Russian Revolution.  It's just flat-out a well-developed, interesting book.  There's nothing like really good historical fiction.  You don't have to make any deals with anybody to read The Given Day.  Just pick the sucker up.

ANECDOTE:  There was one word in the book that cracked me up.  It was "clopping." What's funny about that?  Well, Lehane was, of course, referring to a horse.  But back in 1999, 10 friends, along with Joni and me, performed the musical Guys and Dolls to usher in the millennium (we won't discuss the quality of our performance!).  We did 2 shows on New Year's Eve and welcomed the year 2000.  Well, early on during rehearsals, we were reading our lines, and there's a scene where Nathan Detroit talks to long-time girlfriend, Adelaide, about "eloping."  David, who played Nathan, thought it said "clopping."  We all laugh about that to this day.

1 comment:

  1. My introduction to Lehane was Mystic River and it blew me away!