THE GIVEN DAY

The Given Day isn’t flawless. Parts of the plot and some of the dialogue veer toward soap opera, and many of the characters...

No baseball player has ever enjoyed a paradigm-shifting career like Babe Ruth’s. He began as a very good pitcher who could hit better than most. Then he recast himself, dominating the game as a slugger, hitting homers at a previously unimaginable clip, setting records that would stand for decades. Ruth opens, closes and makes occasional appearances throughout The Given Day, a historical epic that is easily the most ambitious work of Dennis Lehane’s career. Though the Boston novelist isn’t equating his achievement with Ruth’s, there are some striking parallels between the two.

Lehane launched his career with a series of detective novels that showed he could write better than most. Then he recast himself by leaving the detective format, making his popular breakthrough with the powerful Mystic River (2001). Now Lehane has made another leap. As big an advance beyond Mystic River as Mystic River was from his earlier books, The Given Day aspires to be nothing less than the Great American Novel, an ambition that critics began questioning just as baseball lost its position as America’s National Pastime. The Given Day isn’t a baseball novel. Its focus is the Boston police strike of 1919 and the bloody riots that resulted. But it’s really about the American dream, the resistance to change, the subversion of a country’s brightest ideals through its darkest impulses. It’s a novel about, as Lehane writes, “the terrible smallness of men.” It’s a novel about “the fist beneath the velvet glove of democracy.” The poor aren’t necessarily noble; the rich aren’t inherently evil. All are profoundly, humanly flawed. At the book’s heart is the intertwining story of two men. Danny Coughlin, a police officer from a powerfully connected family, finds himself at various times a strike breaker, a strike leader and an undercover infiltrator. He’s in love with an Irish immigrant whose past violates the morality he has inherited from his family, and he must decide if he’s strong enough to follow his heart. Danny might be a tragic hero, but his heroism pales against the courage of Luther Laurence, a black man suspected of being a criminal on the run but one who forges a bond with the Boston cop. Though Luther has abandoned his family, fallen into illicit activity and killed to save his own life, he develops a moral code stronger than that of anyone else in the novel.

The Given Day isn’t flawless. Parts of the plot and some of the dialogue veer toward soap opera, and many of the characters aren’t as fully fleshed as Danny and Luther—or Babe Ruth. Yet the novel’s larger-than-life ambitions make its missteps seem minor. It has often been said that fans found one of Ruth’s prodigious strikeouts more thrilling than a slap single. If Lehane was ever a singles hitter, now he’s swinging for the fences.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-688-16318-1

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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