Summary and book reviews of The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

The Given Day

A Novel

By Dennis Lehane

The Given Day
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    720 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2009,
    720 pages.

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Book Summary

Set in Boston at the end of the First World War, New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane's long-awaited eighth novel unflinchingly captures the political and social unrest of a nation caught at the crossroads between past and future. Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters more richly drawn than any Lehane has ever created, The Given Day tells the story of two families—one black, one white—swept up in a maelstrom of revolutionaries and anarchists, immigrants and ward bosses, Brahmins and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power. Beat cop Danny Coughlin, the son of one of the city's most beloved and powerful police captains, joins a burgeoning union movement and the hunt for violent radicals. Luther Laurence, on the run after a deadly confrontation with a crime boss in Tulsa, works for the Coughlin family and tries desperately to find his way home to his pregnant wife.

Here, too, are some of the most influential figures of the era—Babe Ruth; Eugene O'Neill; leftist activist Jack Reed; NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois; Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson's ruthless Red-chasing attorney general; cunning Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge; and an ambitious young Department of Justice lawyer named John Hoover.

Coursing through some of the pivotal events of the time—including the Spanish Influenza pandemic—and culminating in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, The Given Day explores the crippling violence and irrepressible exuberance of a country at war with, and in the thrall of, itself. As Danny, Luther, and those around them struggle to define themselves in increasingly turbulent times, they gradually find family in one another and, together, ride a rising storm of hardship, deprivation, and hope that will change all their lives.

Chapter One

On a wet summer night, Danny Coughlin, a Boston police officer, fought a four-round bout against another cop, Johnny Green, at Mechanics Hall just outside Copley Square. Coughlin-Green was the final fight on a fifteen-bout, all-police card that included flyweights, welterweights, cruiserweights, and heavyweights. Danny Coughlin, at six two, 220, was a heavyweight. A suspect left hook and foot speed that was a few steps shy of blazing kept him from fighting professionally, but his butcher-knife left jab combined with the airmail-your-jaw-to-Georgia explosion of his right cross dwarfed the abilities of just about any other semipro on the East Coast.

The all-day pugilism display was titled Boxing & Badges: Haymakers for Hope. Proceeds were split fifty-fifty between the St. Thomas Asylum for Crippled Orphans and the policemen's own fraternal organization, the Boston Social Club, which used the donations to bolster a health fund for injured coppers and to defray costs ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

From the New York Times bestselling author comes a beautifully written novel set in Boston at the end of the Great War. The Given Day is an unflinching, utterly spectacular family epic that captures the political unrest of a nation dangling between a well-patterned past and an unpredictable future.


Questions for Discussion

  1. The Given Day transports readers to 1918 Boston and touches on the lives of two families—one black, one white—as they are swept up in the maelstrom of history. How are their experiences similar? How are they different?
  2. Dennis Lehane writes The Given Day from the perspectives of two very different men. What brings Luther Laurence and Danny Coughlin together? ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

This is a big, important work of literary fiction, and it is incredibly well done. There is much that is thought-provoking, and Lehane makes his views on class warfare known. The author weaves his fictional characters, real people and events into a story that captures the reader's attention from the onset and never lets up. It is perhaps the best American novel I have read this year.   (Reviewed by Diane La Rue).

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Media Reviews
Library Journal

Lehane's long-awaited eighth novel is as good as it gets. Enthusiastically recommended for all fiction collections.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [An] engrossing epic. . . . A vision of redemption and a triumph of the human spirit.

The New York Times Book Review - John Freeman

Not only is Lehane working on a larger historical scale, he has turned up the volume on his prose, setting a tone of epic exaggeration.

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley

Lehane has done something brave and ambitious: He has written a historical novel that unquestionably is his grab for the brass ring, an effort to establish his credentials in literary as well as commercial terms.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

The Given Day is a huge, impassioned, intensively researched book that brings history alive by grounding the present in the lessons of the past.

Reader Reviews
Elizabeth

Not bad...have to have time to read :)
A little long, but great historical fiction. Story was about a family who had policemen in the family line and the Boston Police Strike took place during the book...murder too and some mysteries.

Lupoman

The Given Day
After finally finishing this book, I have to say that the author is very close to becoming one of my favorite authors. His writing draws one in, and there's no sleep until you're finished. "The Given Day" is well written, and the characters have ...   Read More

SDC

Best Book of 2008
I've not read a historical novel this good since Ragtime. Lehane has a definite Doctorow feel to his writing - carefully intermingling uncommon characters - both real and imaginary - into a real page-turner. Highly recommended.

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Beyond the Book

The Great Molasses Flood
Prohibition was about to become the law of the land in 1919, and the Purity Distilling Company wanted to make a last batch before their product became illegal. They had a huge tank situated in the North End of Boston, which was densely populated with Italian immigrants.

The company poured warm molasses into the tank on top of a half full tank of cold molasses. The chemical reaction formed by this caused gaseous vapors which reacted with the weakened walls of the tank, and an explosion occurred.

Witnesses described a tidal wave of over two million gallons of molasses that cascaded into the streets of the North End at an estimated 35 mph. An elevated train bridge and a firehouse were destroyed. ...

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