Tuesday, December 08, 2009

*Writer's Corner- William Kennedy's "Ironweed"- A Book Review

Click on title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the writer William Kennedy

Book Review

Ironweed, William Kennedy, The Viking Press, New York, 1983

William Kennedy is, at least in his Albany stories, my kind of writer. He writes about the trials and tribulations of the Irish diaspora as it penetrated the rough and tumble of American urban WASP-run society, for good or evil. I know these people, my people, their follies and foibles like the back of my hand. Check. Kennedy writes, as here with the main characters Fran Phelan and Helen Archer two down at the heels sorts, about that pervasive hold that Catholicism has even on its most debased sons and daughters, saint and sinner alike. I know those characteristics all too well. Check. He writes about that place in class society where the working class meets the lumpen-proletariat-the thieves, grifters, drifters and con men- the human dust. I know that place well, much better than I would ever let on. Check. He writes about the sorrows and dangers of the effects alcohol on working class families. I know that place too. Check. And so on. Oh, by the way, did I mention that he also, at some point, was an editor of some sort associated with the late Hunter S. Thompson down in Puerto Rico. I know that mad man’s work well. He remains something of a muse for me. Check.

The above, in a tangential way, gets you pretty much all you need to know about the why of reading this book (and other stories by Kennedy), except a little something about the plot line. Well, that is fairly simple. Old time baseball star Fran and his erstwhile companion, a gifted singer, Helen are drunks working their way through the edges between skid row and respectability. And, mainly, losing to the lure of the bottle and to the hard, hard struggle that it takes just to get through the day when your options are limited. Put that task together with trying to survive in the jungles, with its endless twisted characters, of the Great Depression (that other one in the 1930s) Albany, trying to figure out when life went wrong and trying to figure out why it all went wrong- while fighting a losing battle against society’s expectations- and one’s family’s. This will provide enough dramatic tension to keep you interested.

Oh did I mention that Kennedy writes with verve, with an uncanny understanding of his characters (although only Fran and Helen get the full treatment here)and with no holds barred, or punches pulled down there on cheap street. See, that is why Kennedy and Thompson connected in the literary world. They KNOW the underside of life. Read this thing, please.

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