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