Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Given Day - Dennis LeHane (audio)


Boston has always been on my radar as a city full of history and raw energy. I've never visited this fine metropolis, but my best friend was born and raised there, and the Bumbles live there. What else do I know about Boston? Well, they have good seafood, I think maybe the band Boston is from there, and of course there's the Sox. There's the tea party thing, they have cool accents, there are alot of Kennedy's meandering around that neck of the woods, and they are supposed to have dirty water. When I read an author interview (don't know where and I don't know what author - ha!) where the author confidently told readers they must read The Given Day, a book about Boston in the early 1900's, I grabbed the opportunity to broaden my horizons beyond my inane, bits and bobs of trivia.

The difficulty comes in really summarizing this 20-disc chunkster. I've put the review off long enough, so I'm just going to have to move on and take a stab.

The story is focused on three individuals, representatives for the turmoil of the decade.

One is Babe Ruth. He pops in and out of the narrative, and we get a glimpse of him early in his career with the Sox. We see him up close, presumably through some mix of historical fact and the author's musings...the drinking, the womanizing, his determination in being the best and the highest paid. Does it add to the overall plot? No, not really, except that he is such an icon for Boston in this time period.

The second character is Luther Lawrence. Luther is a black man who has grown up with little to propel him through life but his smile, his love for watching and playing baseball, and his determination. But when his girlfriend gets pregnant, he loses his job, and they head out from Columbus to Tulsa where there are lots of theoretical jobs for people of color, he falls into the wrong crowd and makes some tragic errors in judgement. He leaves Tulsa and his now pregnant wife in the middle of the night, escaping certain death, and attempts to start fresh in Boston.

Our third protagonist is Danny, son of an Irish police captain, and a policeman himself. Danny marches to his own drum, feels oppressed by his father's God-like reputation and pride, is secretly in love with the family's Irish maid who's engaged to marry his brother, courageously defends the underdog, and has a strong sense of right and wrong, and doing right by that sense, no matter what the cost.

Though all three begin the story with independent lives, they soon cross paths serendipitously and intertwine.

Through Luther and Danny's eyes, we experience a number of significant events in not only Boston history, but US history. The devastating effects of the influenza pandemic. Terrorism and the Bolshevik Revolution. The creation of and the rise of the unions, and ultimately, the famous policeman's strike. After some browsing through Wikipedia, it appears LeHane has stayed true to historical figures and facts throughout, making me feel as if I were there, watching people die by the thousands from the flu, feeling the bomb explosions ignited by the radicals, and witnessing the chaos of the riots that resulted in the strike. The Irish Mob, one of the oldest organized crime groups in the US, is thrown into the mix as well, planting its roots deep into the Boston chronology.

LeHane's character development is intense and complex. Luther and Danny are, at times, pitiable and flawed. You question their decisions, you recognize their weaknesses and immaturity, but you grow to love them for their desire to do the right thing. You admire their humanity and loyalty to each other, despite the rules that state clearly they are to reside in two different stratospheres.

Narrator was fairly entertaining. My only hangup was that he strangely sounded like Obama...not that he doesn't have a lovely voice, but not in this context.

Complaints? Not too many, except that at times it seemed to drag. 20 discs isn't a short read, and while it is no Outlander, it took every ounce of my patience at times to keep plugging along. My bottom line, however would be that the overall experience was well worth the effort. After all, now I know a few more pieces of trivia about the home of the Dropkick Murphys.

4 out of 5 stars


23 comments:

Susan said...

My first question: Is it as disturbing as Mystic River? That one gave me insomnia for a few days. It sounds like a good read, but a long one. I like historical novels when they have their facts straight and this one seems to do so, and I like Dennis LeHane. Thanks, Sandy!

JoAnn said...

I came so close to downloading this one the other day, but audible wanted TWO credits for it instead of the usual one credit. I chose Let The Great World Spin instead... and hope to get started today or tomorrow.

bermudaonion said...

That sounds really good to me, but I'd probably do better with it written since it's so long. (I generally don't get big chunks of time for my audio books.) I really enjoyed LeHane's writing in Mystic River, so I bet I'd like this too.

Beth F said...

I so loved Mystic River -- I really need to read another LeHane. I don't think I've tried him on audio.

Diane said...

I love LeHane and hope to read this one. I have the hardcover and it is a chunkster indeed. A friend of mine is reading it now and enjoying it.

Julie P. said...

I have enjoyed other books but this author but I don't think I could ever listen to a book that was this long!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Twenty disks is pretty long! I'm ready to be done with Moby Dick already just because it's 18!

Literate Housewife said...

I read and loved Mystic River. I have the same question as Susan. Was it disturbing? There were parts of that book (translated well by the movie, too) that made me so uncomfortable. I wonder if that is true of his other work.

Alyce said...

I don't know if I'll have the patience for it, but maybe someday. After all, I really don't know that much about Boston.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Susan - No, it is not all that disturbing, in the sense of Mystic River. There is strife and moral delimmas and such, but nothing that made me squirm.

JoAnn - don't blame you. I guess it is the length that they are charging extra for? That stinks.

Kathy - it did seem to go on and on. I'm alright with long audios though. I just live with the headphones on my ears!

Beth - since the audio was well done with this book, I want to give Shutter Island a try.

Diane - I tend to get intimidated by the chunksters. That is my fatal flaw, because I miss so many good books! Somehow the long audios don't bother me as much as the long hard books.

Julie and Jill - I guess I've been seasoned by those Outlander audios! Can you imagine ONE AUDIO being 48 discs long??? And they are all like that. I've spent a lifetime listening to them.

Jennifer - like I said to Susan, it really wasn't disturbing in the sense you are thinking. It was just gritty and raw.

Alyce - well, you definitely get a thorough history lesson about Boston. Good stuff!

caite said...

No way could I listen to this on audio...but I might be willing to read it. In fact, I have to check on Library Thing, because I have an odd feeling I own this already. My books are out of hand...lol

Serena said...

I don't read a lot of chunky books, so maybe this could be the way to go. Thanks for the awesome review.

The Bumbles said...

I enjoy his writing too. Gritty is a good way to describe him. He doesn't seem to be a fan of the pretty side of things does he? But he also seems to be a big fan of hope amid dispair. That time of the world was so challenging - I marvel at how far we have come in such a short period of time. I had no idea this book existed - thanks for pointing out something that has been right under my nose!

Danette Haworth said...

I know what you're doing tonight!

Iliana said...

Yea, this sounds like quite a chunkster and I don't know that it's really calling my name. I would like to finally read some Lehane but I may have to start with a different book.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I don't think I could manage that on audio either. I would need to get it on paper too. I haven't read anything by Le Hane, but it sounds as though I should start with Mystic River.

Jenners said...

Sounds like a departure for LeHane. I read "Mystic River" and "Shutter Island" and they were very different from this. Seems like his "big important novel."

Dar said...

I really enjoyed Mystic River but I'm just not sure this one sounds like something I'd like. I'm glad you enjoyed it though.

Lisa said...

I had this book from the library some months ago and never got to it. I was wondering if it would be hard to keep track of things with so many discs. Evidently not--now to get back over to the library and get this on audio.

stacybuckeye said...

I need to read more Lehane. This sounds like a good one.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

I loved Mystic River, although that the only LeHane book I've ever read. I like your summary here....makes it easier to decide to pick it up next time I see it. I'm impressed you tackled this one on audio (sheeesh, I'm still only 1/4 through DG's The Fiery Cross, lol).

Zibilee said...

I have been curious about this book, but had not yet read a review. It sounds like I would enjoy some of the plot points more than others. I am glad you enjoyed the book. I have heard great things about LeHane's writing, so I am going to go ahead and put this one on the wish list.

S. Krishna said...

I have trouble with long books, but this one definitely sounds interesting! Thanks for the review.