4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Boston in 1919 was more than just Babe Ruth hitting home runs...,
This review is from: The Given Day (Hardcover)Any novel that begins with Babe Ruth getting drunk and stealing hats is going to grab my attention, but I actually picked up Dennis Lehane's "Any Given Day" without knowing anything about it beyond the name of the author. I am another one of those who came to Dennis Lehane's writing through the film versions of his works. When I learned that "Gone Baby Gone" and "Mystic River" were both adapted from Lehane's books, and that the former was the fourth in a series of, to date, five Kenzie-Gennaro novels (like him, love her), I went out and ordered the series. That was enough to move Lehane into the small but select category of authors whose books I pick up when they come out in hardcover.
"The Given Day" is a historical novel covering a two year period with the year 1919 in the middle. Gidge Ruth dominates the book's prologue, but the two star crossed characters are Luther Laurence, a black baseball player we first meet playing a pickup game against Ruth, and Danny Coughlin, a white Boston police officer . It seems strange that the paths of Luther and Danny should meet, but events conspire to form an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, there are anarchists stirring up trouble in the streets of Boston , an influenza epidemic, and a police force unable to live on pre-World War wages. Boston has not seen such a fertile ground for ferment since the days of the American Revolution. Ultimately, "The Given Day" is an epic novel writ small, more comparable to E. L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" than, say, Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Granted, the 1919 Boston Police Strike is not on a par with Napoleon's invasion of Russia, but there are so many threads related the transformation of the United States in the 20th century that you can see how our today is connected to these particular yesterdays.
While reading this novel I consistently found myself wanting more, not so much in terms of the story continuing on past the end point, which is a constant complaint with most compelling narratives, but more in terms of wanting more details as the story went along. Babe Ruth figures large in this response because he is the historical figure who is featured most prominently in the tale. This is because he is the character situated at the tipping point in what is happening when money and labor in the novel, and there is a sense that as Babe Ruth goes, so goes the nation. More than any other character he represents the future (when we talk about important sports figures in American history there are Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson on the top plateau and nobody else comes close in importance). But while I definitely agree with the privileged position Ruth plays in the narrative, I still wish that some of the other historical figures--which run the gamut from Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and Department of Justice lawyer John Hoover to former General Motors president James Jackson Storrow and Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge--were more than transient characters walking in and out of the story.
Yes, I know that Lehane's choices in this regards are all legitimate, but I ended up wanting more because of what the author was doing with Ruth, specifically in chapter twenty-four. That is the first chapter in the section "Babe Ruth and the White Baseball," which I thought could have stood alone as a short story. The chapter begins with a molasses tank exploding in Boston's North End and concludes with may well have been the longest home run Ruth ever hit, which was in a 1919 spring training game in Tampa, Florida. American League president Ban Johnson was requiring baseball teams to play with white (i.e., clean) baseballs, which is ironic since Ray Chapman would not be killed by a dirty baseball thrown by submariner Carl Mays until the following season. Lehane's eloquence with the metaphor and the way he casually works out the logic of Ruth's plate appearance, make this the standout chapter in the novel and well worth reading just on that score alone and justifies my rounding up on "The Given Day" in the end.