Nonetheless, it was a great read. For all of that, Franny is an interesting character that reminds me of an uncle of mine that passed a few years ago. It starts with Francis going into the family cemetery as a grave digger, passing - not without some significance - the graves of his parents and the child he inadvertently killed when it slipped out of a loose diaper and broke its neck. This small pieces of insight are what build our sympathy with the protagonist. Nobody quite describes life underneath society - whether that of gamblers or of gangsters or of bums - quite like Kennedy.
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The place is Albany, New York, the capital city—nest of corrupt politics; heritor of Dutch, English, and Irish immigrants; home to canallers, crooks, bums and bag ladies, aristocrats, and numberswriters.
Albany, like Boston, attracted a large Irish Catholic population, which brought its churches, schools, family ties, political machine, and underworld connections. Kennedy is not, however, a derivative writer.
The novel focuses on the headquarters of a Newspaper Guild strike committee on the one-year anniversary of its strike against the daily newspaper of a town resembling Albany. Bailey, the proverbial blundering Irish reporter, mixes his libido and marital problems with his earnest belief in the strike, now bogged down in trivialities. Bailey mixes idealism about the strike with several sexual romps and psychic encounters, punctuated by savage beatings from the scabs and company agents determined to break the strike.
In the Guild room near the paper plant, Bailey attempts to revive his affair with Irma, another of the few remaining strikers. As they attempt to block The Ink Truck in the snow and release the ink, everything goes wrong. When Bailey sets fire to the vacant store where the gypsies congregate, Putzina, the queen, is fatally burned, and she dies in the hospital amid a wild gypsy rite. Bailey escapes after cooperating with the company secretary in her sexual fantasy but is disillusioned when he finds that he must sign an apology to the newspaper company for the action of some members.
More setbacks emerge: Bailey takes back the apology, then finds that the motor has been taken out of his car. Bailey, expelled from the Newspaper Guild, goes home to find that his wife, Grace, has put all of his belongings on the curb to be pilfered.
His uncle Melvin refuses to help but invites him to an elaborate pet funeral for his cat. Going literally underground, Bailey takes a job shelving books in the State Library, where Irma visits him to tell him that despite all setbacks, he, Rosenthal, and Deek are being hailed as The Ink Truck Heroes.
In this aspect, Bailey prefigures the gangster hero, Legs Diamond, and the hero as transfigured bum, Francis Phelan, of the later books. Becoming a media hero, Bailey makes one more futile try at The Ink Truck. In a grand finale, the orgiastic end-of-strike party hosted by Stanley becomes another humiliation for Bailey.
Bailey tries to make sense of his experiences, but even the reader cannot understand. Some of the richest of these experiences—a religious pilgrimage by trolley car and a trip backward in time to a cholera epidemic in —seem almost gratuitous, loose ends without much relationship to the rest of the story. Finally brought to justice by New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jack was mysteriously executed gangland style in Albany in December, Marcus is the narrator of the novel, providing a less-than-intimate portrait, yet one filtered through a legal mind accustomed to the trickery of the profession as it was practiced then in Albany.
The book is tightly crafted, with parallel scenes, apt literary allusions, wellconstructed flashbacks, foreshadowing throughout, and, always, the map of Albany and its neighboring Catskills in mind. He survived assassination attempts, though his murder is foretold from the beginning. The story is interwoven with parallels and coincidences. Finally, Jack comes to trial over his torture of a farmer in the matter of a still.
The farmer complains, and a grand jury is called by Roosevelt. Though he is acquitted of the assault on the farmer, a federal case against him nearly succeeds because of the testimony of an aide Jack betrayed. Following this, Jack is shot and killed in a rooming house in Albany. Marcus insists that he defends those who pay his fee. Though a complete fabrication, these emotional touches win juries. The final coda is a lyrically written, but puzzling, apotheosis: Jack, dead, gradually emerges from his body, in a transfiguration worthy of a Seigfried or a Njall of Nordic sagas.
He is Billy Phelan, son of an absent father, Francis, who will be the protagonist of Ironweed. The other consciousness of the book is Martin Daugherty, old neighbor of the Phelans and a newspaperman. The time frame covers several days in late October, , the time of the greatest game—the kidnapping. Family interrelationships loom importantly in this novel.
The politically powerful McCall family almost loses their only heir, the pudgy, ineffectual Charlie. They have never, she says, really talked about anything seriously. Billy reminisces about rowing down Broadway in a boat, during a flood in , with his father and uncle. Soon, he finds his father in a seedy bar, along with his companion Helen, and gives Helen his last money for his father. This novel frames and mirrors an unsavory crime in the lives of ordinary, yet complicated, human beings.
These details are interesting, yet, unlike the appearance of the vagrant Francis Phelan, these anecdotes do not further the plot or embellish the theme.
The same time frame and some of the same characters appear in Ironweed, the final book of the cycle and the Pulitzer Prize winner. The dates are not randomly chosen: The story, though on the surface the saga of a failed, homeless man, is actually a religious pilgrimage toward redemption from sin.
Ironweed is described in an epigraph as a tough-stemmed member of the sunflower family, and Francis, like the weed, is a survivor. These analogies, like the Welles broadcast, hinge on a question of belief important to this novel.
The main character, Francis Phelan, first left home after he killed a man during a transit strike by throwing a stone during a demonstration against the hiring of scab trolley drivers. Subsequently he returned, but left for long periods when he played professional baseball. Francis and another bum, Rudy, dying of cancer, get jobs digging in St. Francis has killed several people besides the scab driver, yet it is not for these crimes that he needs forgiveness but for deserting his family.
The rest of the book chronicles his redemption. Throughout, shifts to fantasy occur, triggered by passages of straight memory and detailed history. Ghosts of the men Francis killed ride the bus back to Albany, yet they do not seem as horrible to Francis as a woman he finds near the mission, freezing in the cold.
He drapes a blanket around her, yet later he finds her dead, mangled and eaten by dogs. Then follows a nightmare search through the cold streets for shelter for the delicate Helen. The friend refuses them shelter, so Francis leaves Helen in an abandoned car with several men, though he knows she will be molested sexually. The next day, Francis gets a job with a junkman. While making his rounds, he reads in a paper about his son Billy getting mixed up in the McCall kidnapping.
Making the rounds of old neighborhoods, buying junk from housewives, releases a flood of memories for Francis: He sees his parents, his neighbors the Daughertys in their house, now burned, where one day the mad Katrina Daugherty walked out of her house naked to be rescued by the seventeen-year-old Francis.
Because of this memory, he buys a shirt from the ragman to replace his filthy one. While he is buying the shirt, Helen goes to Mass, then listens to records in a record store stealing one. Retrieving money she has hidden in her bra, Helen redeems the suitcase at the hotel. Washing herself and putting on her Japanese kimono, she prepares to die. He leaves, however, and finds Rudy; together they look for Helen.
The final violent scene occurs in a hobo jungle, as it is being raided by Legionnaires. Returning to the hotel, Francis discovers Helen dead and leaves swiftly in a freight car.
The use of the conditional in narration of this final section lends the necessary vagueness. Nevertheless, in Ironweed, the intricacy of poetry combines with factual detail and hallucinatory fugues to create a tight structure, the most nearly perfect of The Albany Cycle and its appropriate conclusion.
The parallelism, for example, of a discussion of the temptations of Saint Anthony with the name of the Italian Church of St. Anthony, where Helen hears Mass on her last day of life, shows the craftsmanship of the author.
The interconnections of theme, plot, and character in the three Albany novels, their hallucinatory fantasies, their ghostly visitations, ennoble the lowest of the low into modern epic heroes. The narrator and protagonist, Daniel Quinn, an orphan, relates his adventures and his gradual progress toward maturity.
Orson Purcell, child of Peter Phelan and his landlady, Claire Purcell, has come to the family home in Albany to care for the ailing Peter.
Orson brings a troubled soul to the house that was home to his father, but not to him. Uncertain of his identity, he has suffered two breakdowns and alternately mythologizes and demonizes his wife Giselle, a talented photographer. The story helps to explain the unremitting joylessness of the Phelan matriarch, an unwilling spectator of the horror. In addition, the four paintings in the suite depict the patterns of belief that have informed the behavior of successive generations of Phelans: a distrust of happiness, a keen awareness of the dark forces afoot in the world, and a conviction that the past is always buried in a very shallow grave.
The Flaming Corsage The Flaming Corsage, the sixth novel in the Albany Cycle, begins with a cryptic account of the so-called Love Nest killings in , a scandalous event in which the playwright Edward Daugherty is injured by his friend Giles Fitzroy, who then kills his own wife and himself.
Katrina herself is scarred when a flaming stick pierces her breast and sets her corsage afire. Love, like the flaming arrow that wounds Katrina, is more often a cause of than a cure for the sadness of life. The book begins in , as Roscoe has decided, finally, to retire from politics. A series of barriers, however, stand in the way, and the retirement has to be delayed. Now that Elisha is dead, Roscoe finally works up the courage to make a move on Veronica, and he is very close to winning her heart.
In some ways, Roscoe is the book that Kennedy has always needed and wanted to write. It is an investigation into the nature of a certain kind of politician, the kind that seemingly no longer exists.
In interviews, Kennedy has stressed the importance to him of writing about past events instead of current events in the interest of avoiding the trap of writing mere journalism.
With Roscoe, the reader sees why this formula works for Kennedy. He allows himself enough distance, enough freedom, to mold and shape these characters into unique and spirited creations. An Urban Tapestry, also known as O Albany! Seshachari, editor.
Analysis of William Kennedy’s Novels
Kennedy and Mary E. Kennedy was raised a Catholic , and grew up in the North Albany neighborhood. Career[ edit ] Kennedy began pursuing a career in journalism after college by joining the Post Star in [Glens Falls] as a sports reporter. He then relocated to Puerto Rico in and became managing editor of the San Juan Star , a new English language newspaper.
From a fortune cookie to a Pulitzer: the story behind William Kennedy's Ironweed