Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

Boston, 1918, Molasses, anarchists, Babe Ruth and a police strike

I admired the ambitious scope and the implicit commentary on America. I also liked the comparison to terrorism then and terrorism now. A novel should aspire to this sort of serious viewpoint. However, a grand scope requires lots of characters from different levels of society. And I think the fatal flaw of this novel, the flaw that made reading the last fifth a real chore was the flimsy characterization of everybody except Babe Ruth. And Babe Ruth only glancingly interacts with our two main characters – once at the beginning and once at the end. Otherwise, in his interludes he’s an interesting but very passive onlooker, kind of goofy, and not really interested in the theme of this novel, which are, I think, family loyalties.

This is a plot driven story so the characters are like tiny metal cogs in a massive machine, with no range of movement and absolutely no surprises. All the frenetic shooting/bombing at climax left me cold because I had no emotional investment in these robots.  The main character is Aiden, favored son of a Boston Police official. Will he betray his family? It’s also about Luther, black man and saint, on the run from a botched murder.

In the divide between literary novels and genre novels, this one clearly was genre, although the descriptions were well done. I’m disappointed as the setting was perfect as so many important things were happening. And there were tons of conflict.

Finally, the novel is set in 1918 and in 1918 most people held certain racist and sexist attitudes – it seems a stretch to make those characters who were “of their time” extra evil because they subscribed to those attitudes.

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