I read Janet Maslin's laudatory review of Dennis Lehane's new book, The Given Day, yesterday in the Times. It's an interesting, thoughtful review and made me consider reading the book, although I haven't been overly enamored with Lehane's work in the past.
One line leapt out of me from the review and stuck with me: "He has written a majestic, fiery epic that moves him far beyond the confines of the crime genre."
I've been thinking about that statement since I read it, wondering exactly what the confines of the crime genre are. And near as I can come up with, a crime novel has to have a crime (either past or future) play an important part in the plot, or else it somehow has to deal with crime or the aftermath of crime in a significant way. Other than that, I think anything is fair game.
As I indicated, I haven't read The Given Day. But judging by the description and the reviews I've read, the book involves the lives of police officers, a terrorist attack, spying, bomb-throwing anarchists, suspense, corruption, anti-union violence...Well, damn, that sounds a lot like a crime novel to me.
It's almost like Ms. Maslin (and I wouldn't be surprised if other critics wrote something similar) is embarrased to admit that she really liked and admired a book of significant literary achievement -- that just happened to be a crime novel.
We saw some of this reaction earlier this year with Richard Price's superb Lush Life, another novel of literary prowess that, oh yeah, was a crime novel.
This idea seems particularly strange coming from Maslin, as she so often reviews crime fiction, frequently quite favorably. (And has even been known to gush in a somewhat unseemly manner over the novels she's particularly taken with.) So why the resistance at acknowledging that a book can be great, literary and a crime novel, with no contradictions inherent therein?