The Given Day

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

Dennis Lehane began his successful writing career by producing a series of award-winning detective novels (most notably 1998’s Gone, Baby, Gone) featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. He expanded his craft with the publication of Mystic River (2001) and Shutter Island (2003), two tightly wound and deftly plotted suspense thrillers. Now, with the publication of The Given Day, Lehane has demonstrated that his talent as a writer extends well beyond that of genre fiction. In an epic-length, exhaustively researched novel, Lehane offers readers a close view of Boston in the chaotic, disturbing year of 1919.

The Given Day opens with a prologue, set in Ohio in September, 1918. The World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs is going on, and the teams are traveling by train from Boston to Chicago when mechanical problems cause an unexpected delay. On the train is the famous (and famously drunk) Babe Ruth. The players, waiting for the train to be repaired, come upon a group of African American baseball players, and a game ensues. Everyone is in good humor until the African American team begins to win and several dubious calls go the way of the white team. Ultimately, the black team walks off the field before a confrontation erupts; Babe goes back to the train feeling ashamed and angry.

The prologue serves three purposes: First, it demonstrates that this will be a book about justice and injustice, power and servitude, and moral integrity and moral bankruptcy. Second, it introduces early one of the secondary themes of the book, the relationship between the races. Third, the prologue introduces one of the two protagonists of the novel, Luther Laurence, a munitions worker in Ohio and an outstanding athlete. However, the waning of the war in Europe means that the demand for ammunition is slowing, and white men returning from the war will be taking the jobs. When Luther is dismissed, he and his pregnant fiancé Lila move to Oklahoma, where they marry and Luther begins both legal and illegal work. As a result of his illicit activities, he ends up taking part in the murder of Deacon Skinner Brocious, a notorious Tulsa gangster. Consequently, he must hurriedly leave Tulsa and his beloved Lila. He soon finds himself in Boston, where he takes a job as a servant in the home of Captain Thomas Coughlin, a powerful police officer.

Coughlin has three sons: Danny, a Boston policeman; Connor, a lawyer and the Suffolk County assistant district attorney; and Joe, the youngest of the family, still living at home with his mother and father. Danny, the major character in the novel, is headstrong, rebellious, and confident; he both loves and dislikes his father, respects him and disdains him. Much to his family’s dismay, he has chosen to live in an Italian neighborhood in a small apartment rather than continue to live in his father’s home. At the same time, however, Danny is not without ambition. His wants to make his father proud, and he wants to advance in the police force. The question around which the novel pivots, however, is an old one: to what degree do the ends justify the means? For Danny, this means coming to terms with his ambition, with his understanding of right and wrong, and with his sense of justice and injustice.

Also in residence in the Coughlin household is Nora O’Shea, a young immigrant woman that Thomas found on the side of the road one cold winter evening and brought home to be nursed to health. Although she is a servant in the Coughlin home, she is very much a part of the family and the source of romantic competition between Danny and Connor, a competition that ultimately leads to anger and threatens the stability of the Coughlin family....

(The entire section is 1532 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

American Libraries 39, no. 8 (September, 2008): 69.

Booklist 104, no. 22 (August 1, 2008): 5.

The Boston Globe, September 21, 2008, p. K4.

The Boston Herald, September 24, 2008, p. 16.

The Christian Science Monitor, September 30, 2008, p. 25.

Entertainment Weekly, September 26, 2008, p. 96.

Kirkus Reviews 76, no. 13 (July 1, 2008): 662.

Library Journal 133, no. 13 (August 15, 2008): 69.

Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2008, p. E1.

The New York Times, September 18, 2008, p. E1.

Publishers Weekly 255, no. 27 (July 7, 2008): 37.

USA Today, September 23, 2008, p. 4D.

The Washington Post Book World, September 21, 2008, p. BW15.