The Given Day
Set against the waning years of World War I, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the increasingly turbulent social changes sweeping through Boston, The Given Day attempts to capture a multitude of historical events with the heated political and racial tones of its day, still strikingly relevant today. It falls short of Lehane’s usual abilities to seamlessly weave characters and plot, though not by much.
Danny Coughlin, Boston beat cop and son of a dominant police captain, is torn between personal ambition and empathy for the emergent Boston Social Club clamoring for improved working conditions. Luther Lawrence, a black munitions worker from Tulsa fleeing from a violent crime, finds work with Danny’s family. As Danny and Luther forge an unlikely friendship, Luther staves off ruthless members of the Coughlin family who may block his road to redemption.
Lehane has plotted a book that is rich in detail and meticulously researched. His main characters speak, have life, and act accordingly. Even though at times The Given Day is overstuffed and needlessly slows, it is a remarkable, evocative narrative that would work on all counts if the author didn’t feel the need to be so inclusive. J. E. Hoover and Babe Ruth, while interesting as sidenotes, add no texture to an already overlong story. Eddie McKenna, a nasty piece of work and vital to the plot (uncle to Danny, scourge to Luther) is evil minus the motivation; no one does vile, motivated characters better than Lehane.
Still, The Given Day is epic and moving, gripping and informative, delivering social and racial plotlines of intense realism on a level far above any shortcomings I’ve cited.
702 (US), 720 (UK)