It starts as an almost imperceptible rumble, and then ends with a societal cry of pain. As you read, the tension builds, you become unsettled where you sit; something sinister is afoot. Your eyes willingly travel the lines of the page, the scene is being set, just the right amount of description, a perfect staccato rhythm of words and phrases, resulting in a broiling image of disarray and disorganization. Something dangerous is in the air.
Soon it will be upon you, your mind will be filled with a cacophony of shouts and screams, slivers of conversation, slices of pandemonium. Reading further, you discover twisted limbs in grotesque positions, bloodied faces, cruel intentions and inflictions of pain done by one stranger to another. You wince and hope the world you are reading about will once again become civilized and safe. This is a riot, a mob scene, people out of control, people caught up in the moment, murder and rape are happening in the same place where people walked calmly earlier in the day. This can’t be happening, should not be happening but it is happening convincingly so in Dennis Lehane’s new book The Given Day.
I recently finished The Given Day, after patiently waiting for a period of time for the book to come into the library. The Given Day is a big story, with multiple plot lines; the backdrop is Boston in the early 20th century, right after WWI. It is set against the rising tension of an underpaid and overworked police force striving to get their fair share of the salary pie.
Corruption, disasters and terrorism, fear of communism and unbridled racism is the fabric of which this story is woven. Relationships are built while others are destroyed. Betrayal and loyalty are constantly played against each other. This is an epic, a labyrinthine story, culminating in a riot scene that is a turning point in the book. Lehane’s handling of the riot is violent, raw, ugly and real. The impact was such that I found myself rereading passages, so captivating is Lehane’s rendering of such a tragic situation. The Given Day is well worth the 700 plus pages it takes Lehane to tell his story. And for me the riot scenes are the most memorable.
As an aside, there are two other books I was reminded of while reading The Given Day. They too contain very vivid and powerful riot scenes: Nathaniel West’s The Day of Locust and Emile Zola’s Germinal. Both left an indelible mark in my memory, for many reasons one of which is the depiction of human behavior when restraint is no where to be found.
Please join us at the Mid-Manhattan on Tuesday April 7 at 6:30, on the 6th floor, where Dennis Lehane will be talking about The Given Day.