We will almost certainly look back on this first decade and change of the 21st Century and wonder, from a smug remove, what the hell humanity was thinking. For those who know better, and who see the eerie echoes of “The Turn of the Century” in our own turn of the century, bust out a copy of The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, and prepare to see a lot of your fears validated.
Set in the tumultuous period from 1917 to about 1919, The Given Day is the story of Boston cop Danny Coughlin and Luther Lawrence, a black man in a white man’s country who runs afoul of gangsters and flees Tulsa to hide out on the East Coast. Both men forge an unlikely friendship based on the similarities they discover in one another’s dire circumstances as they battle a society seemingly set up to screw over the working man. Don’t worry, there are also gunfights with anarchist bombers and other tense showdowns.
Boston is a beautiful city, if you’ve never been, and like a lot of Lehane’s other fiction, this is a Boston novel first and foremost. What’s fascinating about it is what it reveals about the country at that time. Some vignettes starring Babe Ruth and the odd inclusion of J. Edgar Hoover in a few scenes as a young fink of an FBI agent seem to come out of nowhere, but they advance the setting if they don’t advance the narrative.
1917 America is a land where police are contemplating going on strike because they haven’t had a raise since 1905 and are working 80 hour weeks. It’s a land where the Spanish Influenza is killing people by the thousands. It’s a land where an industrial explosion blankets Boston’s North End in knee-deep molasses, where labor unions are accused of being Bolsheviks and are being hunted by the government for daring to ask for pay increases and reasonable safety concerns. It’s a time in history where uncertainty and rage have given hucksters and thugs the opportunities such people are always waiting for to convince a mob – any mob, for any reason – to go get killed for them. The novel’s plots and subplots would seem insignificant next to such upheaval if the characters weren’t so easy to root for. Through the violence of the underclass and the amoral men oppressing them, the cruelty and remove of the upper class, and the despair that sets in when even the most well-intentioned law and government just can’t stop disaster, the protagonists stay true to their word and never fold, even if they hold a losing hand. You’ll love them for it.
The Given Day has a sequel out, Live By Night, which I haven’t read yet, but deals chiefly with a secondary character in this book. I’m excited for it. If you want an unsparing look at the America of a century ago from the perspective of its grandest old city, you should be reading The Given Day by Dennis Lehane.
I can’t thank everybody enough for making the Ken Reads Erotica videos fun and continuing to show us support. You are all wonderful, deviant people. We’ll have another video up before too much longer, since we already have the footage in the tank. For the ones following that, I’ll be looking toward doing more interesting things in the videos. I am also going to start reading a bit ahead so it doesn’t take us quite so long to film them and we so we can spend more time commenting on them in general rather than just getting my gross-out reactions (but don’t worry, I know the reason you keep coming back is because of the faces I make).
In the meantime, please check out our Facebook page at Ken Reads Erotica and you can also follow me on Twitter at @kenreadserotica. I’m doing my best to try to keep putting funny things on them. For updates beyond just my stuff, keep up with sullivanvideo on YouTube for these videos and other stuff Hugh does for fun.
Happy Valentine’s Day, you smug couples! I can think of no better time to post my review of Gone Girl, which fortuitously enough ran at the end of Episode 6.
Whenever a romantic relationship is at the center of any fictional work, you’re already in deep trouble. They’re never written realistically, probably because by the time you’re mature enough to pen your own fiction, Eros has already snagged your neck in a garrote wire and dragged you several hundred yards through the rose bushes. Even the grossest couples have their share of bitterness is what I am saying, and not a lot of people want to read about that. This human tendency, it should be said, is the reason for Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey in the first place.
Gone Girl, on the other hand, does not fuck around, and its unsparing look at how screwed up intense relationships really are actually manages to be more interesting than the ingenious mystery at the center of its plot. I haven’t been doing this supplemental book reviewing feature of the blog for long, but at this early stage, Gone Girl is far and away the best read, and all of this despite so many things that normally discourage me.
I’ve avoided talking directly about the ludicrousness of the sex in Fifty Shades of Grey because holy shit, man. At some point, however, I’m afraid we really are going to need to talk about it, because you can’t sit down and take this thing apart from every angle without going into how wildly implausible and stupid the actual acts of intimacy contained in it truly are. I’m sorry I just called them “acts of intimacy,” too. I’m being too delicate here.
So I guess the time has come to put on some latex and examine this specimen, and to do so I’m going to take a look at just one of the stupid things in the book: The nipple-induced orgasm.
We understand everybody needs to read the Newest Big Thing every now and again, so for reviews of books you probably shouldn’t be reading instead but almost certainly will have to anyway, there’s “What’s The Big Deal?” a segment with the aim of letting you know whether you’ll at least enjoy it. Today, we look at The Hunger Games, the first book in Suzanne Collins’ YA trilogy.
I haven’t read the whole trilogy and probably won’t, so if I say something that you can argue against by citing the later installments, you’ve got to forgive.
The Hunger Games is, in one sense, revisiting several earlier works. Stephen King’s The Running Man and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami both spring immediately to mind, and both essentially deal with a publicized bloodsport pitting average people against one another. In the case of Battle Royale, it’s middle school children on an island, all from the same randomly-selected class, induced to fight one another through explosive collars that blow their heads off if they don’t keep moving.
I haven’t read either, though I did see both film adaptations (The Running Man movie has nothing to do with its source material) and I did plug through a chunk of the Battle Royale manga like, seven years ago. Fans of The Hunger Games cry foul on bringing up the similarities, but you kind of have to. That said, The Hunger Games can stand on its own merits, and pissy people who sneer at it for themes it may share with earlier works are really just angry they need to share the sadistic juvenile bloodsport sub-genre of Orwellian dystopia fiction with tween girls, and also kind of angry that said property is actually pretty good. Continue reading →