Posts Tagged ‘Lehane’

Given Day

28 September 2010

Dear J-

As a follow-up, I finally finished Lehane’s The Given Day late last night and having had some time to let it filter through my unconscious mind, I’m standing by my assertion that most of the heroes stuck out like a sore thumb, being unusually progressive and modern-minded. The strange feeling never really went away; even as the story moved along to its gripping conclusion (Lehane does know how to tell a tale) those characters stood in stark relief to the villains, who were painted with flat, broad strokes.

It was worth reading, but unlike the Kenzie-Gennaro series, I’m not sure I’d re-read it in five years when all the details have leaked out or my head. The characters are quite likable, but they wouldn’t be out of place in a modern setting. There’s a note of false drama with the byplays between Danny and Nora, Luther and Lila; Lehane grants us our wishes for a happy ending.

The work of a critic, especially an amateur one, is shockingly easy (just look at any typical Amazon product review). The act of creation, the labor, is apparent in the novel’s craft: compulsively readable and fleshed-out; as with other Lehane novels, I’m transported back to Boston. I just wish the characters were a bit more complex, as most of his earlier ones have been; you could make an argument for Danny as Mary Sue wish-fulfillment. All this is telling me that I need to watch The Wire, his contemporaneous writing project.



Mountainous Task

26 September 2010

Dear J-

I’m thinking tonight I’m going to have to break my rule against reading nonfiction except for study or dire emergency; I’m in the middle of Lehane’s The Given Day and I can feel the flesh rotting off that particular skeleton already. The bones of the story are great: labor unrest of the early twentieth century and the Boston Police Strike of 1919; it’s the details of the fiction I’m having trouble digesting. Some of the characters are polished to a fine android gleam: their actions so predictable and unbelievable that you can’t help but fall out of the story. I don’t believe Lehane’s out of his depth on this historical fiction, but he’s fallen into the trap of projecting modern character on historical figures and constructs.

Yesterday the campaign season reached us in earnest, with a volunteer coming by to hang a door sign for the Democratic City Council candidate, Howard Wayne. When I asked her if she was part of the IBEW, explaining that we’d just voted to join, she slapped me on the shoulder and called me brother — junior brother in the union to be sure but that connection was immediate and visceral. A good portion of the novel is devoted to describing the conditions that the BPD were subject to at the time of the strike: no real raises since 1905, 75-90 hour work weeks without overtime, and denial of benefits when injured on duty. And I think of my own situation, how lucky we have it in relative and absolute terms, and I wonder what the point of our unionization is.

It occurs to me that unions don’t exist in a vacuum; for everyone who feels wronged, for everyone who wants more than scraps and the expected gratitude, there’s a union. One of the wiser heads pointed out that once the company started telling us we had jobs, not careers; people were fungible assets; cogs will be replaced — that’s when the harvest was sown. I can’t help but think that we’ve managed to give them more reasons to find a quiet company outside our walls to do our jobs — outsource, like so many other plants handle engineering — but then again I can’t reconcile what we can do with what we need to.