Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book: The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane (2008)

Talk about swinging for the fences. Lehane’s latest is epic in size (700 pages) and scope, surveying Boston history from the end of the Great War through the influenza epidemic of 1918 and the city’s police strike the following year. All of it seen through the eyes of a young white cop, scion of a powerful department family, and a black man on the run for murder.

Oh, and Babe Ruth. Still with the Red Sox at the time.

It’s a grand, roistering tale, packed with subplots elbowing each other for room. Lehane’s Irish Catholic sensibility – compassionate and sardonic, with an eye for both weakness and the telling detail – is perfect suited for the material. There are coincidences aplenty, and certain key relationships aren’t fleshed out so much as asserted. But Lehane draws some rich parallels between then and now, and his gift for narrative remains peerless. I devoured all 700 pages in record time. The Ruth sections, with the Babe in his optimism and childishness an able surrogate for the American public, are the strongest in the book.

Plus it never hurts to have a few passages with some contemporary resonance.

But (he) had come to the table with something they’d never expected, something they would have thought outmoded and out-lived in the modern age: a kind of fundamental righteousness that only the fundamental possessed. Unfettered by doubt, it achieved the appearance of moral intelligence and a resolute conscience. The terrible thing was how small it made you feel, how weaponless. How could you fight righteous rage if the only arms you bore were logic and sanity?

Or, even shorter:

“People don’t want truth, they want certainty ... Or the illusion of it.”

’twas ever thus.