Completing Dennis Lehane’s loose trilogy of novels in ‘World Gone By’

The three books of Dennis Lehane‘s Coughlin trilogy follow an unexpected path in telling three distinct stories that are only loosely connected by a cast of common characters over many years. While ostensibly about one family, the narrative arc of the three books rather connects two brothers (a cop and a gangster) first through their father in The Given Day and then Live By Night. The larger story then pivots to the story of a gangster aiming to get out of the business while losing every semblance of family in Live By Night and World Gone By.

World Gone By 2 - Dennis Lehane(Dennis Lehane)

Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of Boston Police Department captain Thomas Coughlin, is the unmitigated star of the books Live By Night and World Gone By. Climbing the corporate ladder of  the Italian mob takes Joe from his Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts to Ybor City, Florida near Tampa to Havana, Cuba. The era of Prohibition and illegal booze are the racket. Joe is highly competent, highly profitable, and highly troubled as far as his love interests, loyalty to the family he cultivates in the mob, and functioning a mob syndicate amongst the intrigue of those gunning for him, regardless of his conscience.

World Gone By 3(World Gone By)

World Gone By is a clear sequel to Live By Night in tone, style, and subject matter. That The Given Day even existed adds nothing to this tale, as the story looks to tie up loose ends from the story of Live By Night. Joe works as the consigliere to the crime family headed by his former partner Dion Bartolo. Bartolo is the family Joe has, in addition to his son. Joe’s wife, Graciela, was killed at the end of Live By Night. To me, World Gone By is a book length examination of regret, recrimination, and the workings of an author (Lehane) and a mobster (Joe Coughlin) who wanted better for themselves but had to suffer through more story than they could execute. It is an irony that Joe loses his son in the way Thomas Coughlin emotionally loses both of his sons through the trilogy. Joe lost his son by killing Dion. Thomas lost Joe and his other son through different degrees of alienation in the three book trilogy.

World Gone By 4(The Given Day, Live By Night, and World Gone By)

Thomas Coughlin appears in Live By Night and the opening book of the series, The Given Day. The Given Day is a historical novel that looks into the stories of two main characters, namely Aiden “Danny” Coughlin of Boston and Luther Laurence, a talented black amateur baseball player from Columbus, Ohio. Their stories intersect in bringing out compelling narrative pitted against the 1919 Boston Police Strike for Danny, the  Tulsa Race Riot against Black Wall Street for Luther, the shame that former Red Sox and Yankee baseball player Babe Ruth about the prohibition against blacks in baseball and baseball’s unfair financial structure, and a few other story lines.

In getting into subjects of class tension, racial tension, poverty, economic instability, political corruption, and so much more, The Given Day was an outstanding book of its own accord. That the book incorporates historical events and people so well made for high expectation for the series for me. Live By Night and World Gone By, while not bad and decent reflections of tensions with the story of an upswing of 20th century mob activity in America and Cuba, quite simply places a blemish upon The Given Day by bringing in characters that only tangentially relate to what may be the best accomplishment of Lehane’s writing career. In comparison, these two suffer by bringing less history into their telling. These are statements more for the first book than against the second and third books.

World Gone By 5(Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin in the movie Live By Night (2016))

Ben Affleck played Joe Coughlin in the 2016 movie adaptation of the book Live By Night, which of course introduced us to the central question of family and whether a gangster can remain moral. The clear answer is no, though the notion of ethics is strong in the second and third books. World Gone By continued with the fallout of family and the ethical lifestyle, and to a certain respect feels to me like The Godfather: Part III (1990) feels for many who like the Godfather movie franchise…that the first two movies are clearly better. My feel is that I am not clear what fans of Dennis Lehane‘s work received in the third installment of this trilogy of books. More clearly, Live By Night as a standalone book with no relation between Joe, Danny, and Thomas Coughlin would have been best. Having Live By Night exist without World Gone By also would have been good for the Joe Coughlin and Dion Bartolo story.

My personal rating of the book World Gone By is 3.25-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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The Year 2017 in Reading: 35 Books (The Bronze Books)

When challenged to read books in 2017, I joined friends who had set individual targets  based on their interest level and the challenges life had in front of them. Three friends proposed to read 15 books. Three really ambitious readers proposed reading 50 books, 60 books, and 75 books in succession with varying degrees of reported success. In fact, I had one friend that reported reading a few hundred pages per day to the tune of 379 books read.

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, we both exceeded our goal by landing in the thirty-plus books range. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated the 35-books mostly as worthy reads.

Five (5) books landed with ratings of less than average, which is to say at 3.25-stars or less.  Eleven (11) books landed at average with a rating of 3.5-stars while one (1) landed at slightly above average with 3.75-stars. These seventeen (17) books will be collected into this remembrance of 2017. Simply follow the links for a fuller review of any particular book.

Ranking as above average at 3.75 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Having written in a style reminiscent of Agatha Christie, I particularly liked the notion of there being two mysteries in a single book to unravel. One might remember that I spent an entire blog post in 2016 reviewing the Agatha Christie books read in 2016.

Magpie Murders 1

Ranking as average at 3.5 stars in 2017 included these eleven (11) books:

I stayed mostly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with these books, with Candide being the notable exception.

Candide 1

Ranking as just below average at 3.25 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Live By Night 1

Ranking as slightly below average at 3.0 stars in 2017 included these three (3) books:

My ranking of James Joyce came as the biggest disappointment here as I had hoped for something that would resonate more fully with me. Perhaps the larger issue here was my coming to the book in my forties rather than as a younger man.

ulysses

Ranking lowest at 2.50 stars in 2017 included this book:

That final book lands in the pulp fiction genre; the book itself was recommended by Stephen King, whose writing has some quirks to it though has been entertaining to me. The bottom line for this book for me is to realize that not all influences to authors that entertain me are books that I would want to read.

At the Mountains of Madness 1

The above listing of books reflects the bronze listing of books. A silver and gold listing will follow shortly.

Matt – Friday, December 29, 2017

‘The Given Day’ by Dennis Lehane exceeds ‘Live By Night’

The sequel to The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, Live By Night is a prohibition era gangster novel aiming to establish an ethos for the gangster lifestyle first in Boston Massachusetts, second in Tampa Florida, and finally in Cuba and into the northern Gulf of Mexico cities Miami through New Orleans.

Live By Night 2 (Dennis Lehane)

A adequate job of tension was central to the story, and for that I was grateful. This quality of the book frankly saved the book for me, as the inner conflict . The characters lacked some depth, in my humble opinion, and the story almost felt like an attempt to offer us Joe Coughlin as modeled on the character Michael Corleone from Mario Puzo‘s The Godfather. Live By Night is no The Godfather, and Lehane does not compare well with Puzo in this effort.

It is not necessary to read The Given Day to read Live By Night, as the two books share at least three characters of significant import. The focus of the two books are greatly different; the protagonists for these two books are largely different. In fact, I would say that the idea of carrying characters over from one book to the other feels more an accommodation to a publisher than a deliberate desire from the author.

Live By Night 3(From the author of Shutter Island and The Given Day)

In comparing the two books, I liked the first more than I did the second. I felt more invested in the characters of The Given Day. The resolution to the characters that carried over between these two books was much better in the first book, too.

Overall about 3.25-stars, rounded to 3.00.

Matt – Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Year in Reading 2016 Part 1 – Five Favorites

As we approach the end of 2016, it seemed fitting to follow the lead of New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks on Twitter) from December 20th and share my reading from the year. Five of my favorites for this year are included below. Maybe you found something that you can enjoy?

  • “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” by John Steinbeck on 7/22/16 – 4/5 stars

Travels with Charley strikes me as a semi-fictional travelogue and stream-of-consciousness tale of a style not unlike that of Jack Kerouac. The book is definitely of the Kerouac canon, though the depth of the contemplation is of a more mature nature than that of Kerouac. The two men were definitely at a different point in life as they wrote. Besides this, the racial discussion and commentary in the last roughly twenty percent of this book leaves the depth that Kerouac offers well in the rear view. I mean this more as praise for Steinbeck than as critique of Kerouac, though both meanings are intended.

Steinbeck exposes things of himself and his times in this book, which it frames a narrative of sectional “American character through sightseeing in 1960.” You get a view of people in Maine and Texas, as two examples. You sense the immutability of border crossings and self-importance. Lodgings moving from a motel feel with something close to personal connection to hotels with less interaction comes through at times.

The book offers this from a 60-something in 1960 compared to his view of America as seen with the vision of someone with an insight into the America of the 1930s (dust bowl America) or 1910 (northern California). A comparison of the worlds of travel, at least in terms of how the highway system and the character of travel, held more through the first half of the narrative, yet it does reemerge again later.

I enjoyed this tale more from an aesthetic quality of how Steinbeck saw, felt, and described the places, feelings, and quality of traveling. It was an interesting experience to feel this drive like a bachelor with his poodle. That Steinbeck traveled without his wife, and that she allowed this, in a few different ways really surprised and shocked me. Thinking beyond the immediacy of his health (which apparently was not good when these travels occurred), I personally am not at a place where I want to travel without my wife. I cannot imagine what would prompt me to consider a prolonged trip of such a character.

All this is part of the mystery, I think. I give this four stars for the enjoyment of seeing an astute, dry, if not curmudgeonly older man share one last experience of our country from a time before the Beatles made their name in America.

  • “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury on 8/04/16 – 5/5 stars.

As was said of Dandelion Wine and its writer, “[Ray] Bradbury is a lovely writer, and he pulls [the reader] into this mythical summer of 12 year old Douglas. Through his eyes the ordinary becomes extraordinary.”

The language is poetic and draws a picture few others I’ve read have. The story is sentimental, romantic, boyish. The thoughts and feelings and perceptions are those of a 12-year-old sensitive boy. The themes meander through technology not replacing the need for human interaction; fear and acceptance; old teaching young; experiencing fear and accepting it; contemplating the meaning of life, death, and mortality; and most certainly summer. The central metaphor for summer is masterfully executed.

While lacking the true social scope you’d get in Mark Twain, I would place this book right there in quality. The time period (the year 1928) gives a more naive waxing and poetry than Stephen King’s Stand By Me, for example; the language and imagery of Ray Bradbury is in a different class than King’s work.

I grant five stars for being sentimental though fantastically poetic and compelling; the painting of an engaging and nostalgic word picture for my imagination merits my recommendation.

  • “The Given Day” by Dennis Lehane on 8/28/16 – 3.75/5 stars.

The Given Day proved to be an intriguingly written with realism to the facts that I had for the historical personalities fictionalized within this book. Dennis Lehane did a good job of offering tension with the typical central component of police subject matter. The political intrigue worked, though I didn’t walk away with a sense that the story told “was better than it had to be.” Overall, the tension and character definition were great. The characters had depth, and there was some growth within them…however, I found myself wanting more of that.

That the story didn’t “work out well” for some central, good characters saved the overall story for me. The interplay between stories speaks well to the planning.

Overall about 3.75-stars.

  • “The Old Curiosity Shop” by Charles Dickens on 12/02/16 – 4.5/5 stars.

A tale of richly drawn character and characters, The Old Curiosity Shop tells a truly heart wrenching and sad story of a time and place of abject poverty for Nell, her grandfather, and a prodigious cast of characters that share in that poverty, those that try to help yet fail, or finally others that aim to make it worse by a downright despicable sense for abusing the downtrodden.

John Irving, the writer of The Cider House Rules, once said in a television interview that he writes characters that he loves, and then does the worst thing to them that he can think of. Charles Dickens showed us here, in “The Old Curiosity Shop,” that he could have invented this notion. Dickens certainly mastered this (at least from the perspective as reader feeling for characters). Dickens made me love his characters. You’ll smile in the face of the misery.

My one primary exception to the “love Dickens’ characters” concept comes into play with the central antagonist, Quilp. If you managed to love Quilp, you frankly have a better soul than do I. I am not ready to love this character. The self-loathing truth for me is that Quilp’s outcome is one of Dickens’ central masterpieces in the notion of go on “smiling in the face of misery.”

4.5-stars out of five.

  • “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr on 12/12/16 – 3.5/5 stars.

I think I was more okay than others with the pace of the book, though I appreciate that folks wanted less background and more action from earlier in the book. The period where Marie and Werner interact was too spare, in my opinion. There is a good point to be raised that a book about Nazi Germany and the war without a compelling angle for doing so is strong.

Volkheimer was perhaps the one character that I found most relatable. 3.5 stars out of five.

 

Matt – Tuesday, December 20, 2016