Irish American novelist Denis Lehane’s tale of love and revenge in the Prohibition era - “Live by Night” is his finest achievement
Lehane pens an epic story of Irish mobsters, petty criminals and women so alluring that men are willing to die for them.
“A gangster is somebody who says, ‘I’m going to be part of a society, it’s just going to be criminal,’” Lehane explains.
That's different to an outlaw, who rejects society entirely. Lehane is interested in gangsters, the men who live by night, he's interested in their reality and what they have meant to the history of this nation. He has judgments to make about them too, but he won't look away from the good or the bad in them.
This may be Lehane's most Irish book to date because it has at its core a recognizably tense, awkward and explosive relationship between gangster Joe and his stoic hero cop father. It's the stuff of classic Irish drama and Lehane knows it.
“What connects The Given Day to this book and the follow up that I'm writing now is that they seem to be thematically all about fathers and sons. This is about a guy, Joe, who grows up in the shadow of his father and is sick of it. It's something he's trying to reconcile through the entire book although he doesn't know it.”
Lehane didn't look to his own family for inspiration for a good reason -- he liked his own dad.
“I like to think I had a wonderful relationship with my own father. It's a relationship that's quite strange by its very nature, fathers and sons,” he offers.
“You are in some ways the mirror of your father, but you're not. In some ways you're the replacement for the father too. You live in his shadow but you do not.
“Even a good father son relationship lives in a kind of constant tension. I'm physically turning into my father and I think that was very much on my mind as I was writing the book.”
In Live By Night we see that Joe is constantly thinking of how he looks in his father’s eyes. Even thousands of miles away and years apart, he wonders. He has a father who loves him but has a very odd way of showing it.
“The journey of the book is the one of Joe stepping into himself. He leaves the world that he has known behind. In that respect it's very much a coming of age story,” Lehane says.
“But he also begins to leave his soul behind too. And that becomes the big question at the latter end of the book -- can you possibly ever retain your soul in this business he's in?
“He's a gangster. Just because he rescues a prostitute or two doesn't mean he doesn't profit from prostitution. That question goes deeper into the next book (which Lehane is currently writing) which is very much a journey into darkness.”
There are certain places in the book that Joe goes to that Lehane went to in his twenties as a pasty Irish kid from Boston, he says.
“I ended up in Florida, as he does. Joe sees an entirely other world open up to him and that's exactly what happened to me,” says Lehane.
“If you grow up in a very insular society as I did in Boston and you step out of it it's an eye opener. I didn't realize that everyone doesn't look pasty and pale. I hadn’t heard a Latin beat. It changed me.”
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