Ironweed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is the best-known of William Kennedy's three Albany-based novels. Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger, full-time drunk, has hit bottom.
Years ago he left Albany in a hurry after killing a scab during a trolley workers' strike; he ran away again after accidentally—and fatally—dropping his infant son.
Now, in 1938, Francis is back in town, roaming the old familiar streets with his hobo pal, Helen, trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past and the present...
About the Author
William Kennedy, author, screenwriter and playwright, was born and raised in Albany, New York. Kennedy brought his native city to literary life in many of his works. The Albany cycle, includes Legs, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, and the Pulitzer Prize winning Ironweed. The versatile Kennedy wrote the screenplay for Ironweed, the play Grand View, and cowrote the screenplay for the The Cotton Club with Francis Ford Coppola. Kennedy also wrote the nonfiction O Albany! and Riding the Yellow Trolley Car. Some of the other works he is known for include Roscoe and Very Old Bones.
Kennedy is a professor in the English department at the State University of New York at Albany. He is the founding director of the New York State Writers Institute and, in 1993, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received numerous literary awards, including the Literary Lions Award from the New York Public Library, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Governor’s Arts Award. Kennedy was also named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and a member of the board of directors of the New York State Council for the Humanities.
In this third novel in Kennedy's Depression-Albany series, the focus is on aging, bumming Francis Phelan, sire of small-town gambler Billy (Billy Phelan's Greatest Came, 1978); and again the grand-talking prose curlicues in extravagant declamations, levitates into hellfire profanations, and celebrates the bonding of an underculture's fine, boozy chivalry - like those pre-stupor moments in a Saturday-night bar when the consciousness peers into poetry and the cosmos. Francis, a former baseball big-leaguer, is now given to "alcoholic desolation," taking on a few bucks by digging graves. And, in the cemetery, he communes with the family and neighborhood dead - especially those whose demises were linked to Francis, the "family killer": for the first time he spends a moment at the grave of his infant son Gerald, killed when Francis dropped him by accident; there's Rowdy Dick, smashed against a wall when he tried to cut off Francis' feet; and, of course, doomed motorman Harold Allen, whom Francis killed in a long-ago strike with a stone aimed sure and true. (It was then that "the compulsion to flight first hit . . . and it was as pleasurable to his being as it was natural: the running of bases after the crack of a bat, the running from accusation . . . the calumny of men and women . . . from family, from bondage, from destitution of spirit . . . in a quest for pure flight as a fulfilling mannerism of the spirit.") Still the warrior among a drift of bums, then, Francis also cronys with pal Rudy - with Helen, the wilted blossom, who's proud she chose (wasn't pushed into) a middle-age of bumming. He sets what teeth he has left and asks the bum-brotherhood's enduring question: "How do I get through the next twenty minutes?" There's a bar night with ex-singing star Oscar ("What was it that went bust for us, Oscar, how come nobody found out how to fix it for us?"); there are memories of first sex and the Big League, the winter cold, and ghosts. After all, "everything was easier than going home." But eventually Francis does - to wife Annie, still-loving Billy, daughter Peg: there's even a family dinner, in 1916 dude clothes, as Francis' ghosts build bleachers in the Phelan's back yard to watch. And finally, after one more binge and another killing in shanty-town, Francis, to the tune of the moon and an empty whiskey bottle, goes to the "holy Phelan caves." In sure: the best of Kennedy's Albany books - slender of plot machinations, rich in folk-song simplicity . . . like a "Big Rock Candy Mountain" in weepy, bone-shivering Irish brass. (Kirkus Reviews)
Series: Albany Cycle Ser.
For Ages: 18+ years old
Number Of Pages: 240
Published: February 1984
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.8 x 1.0
Weight (kg): 0.168