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Ironweed (1983)

by William J. Kennedy

Series: The Albany Cycle (Book 3)

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2,132425,262 (3.82)106
This tale, set during the Depression, tells about Francis Phelan and other inhabitants of skid row in Albany, New York. 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. Chronicles the final wanderings of a one-time ballplayer turned down-and-out murderer.… (more)

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» See also 106 mentions

English (41)  Spanish (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Dark, dreary..too wordy. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Aug 1, 2020 |
Steinbeck meets Selby ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
Extremely moving story of bums. Hoboes. A down on his luck baseball player who can't forgive himself for a death he caused, and his former singer girlfriend. All of their friends and life on the streets of Albany. These characters and the writing were very strong. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
Francis Phelan is a bum from Albany, New York. He carries guilt, shame, and death wherever he goes. A former professional baseball player, Francis abandoned his family after he dropped his infant son by accident and killed him. He ran for years, took to drink, and finally returned to Albany, but avoided his cast-away family, reduced to asking himself "that enduring question: How do I get through the next twenty minutes."

He is principled, caring and still has a family and wife that loves him and would take him back with no questions, but Francis carries the burden of the doomed. William Kennedy doesn't wrap the story up neatly, but you can't envision it ending well for Francis. ( )
  Hagelstein | Jan 15, 2020 |
Francis Phelan is one of those characters in literature that you really should dislike but you can't help feeling sympathy and compassion for him and his plight. He's simply a bum. He's spent his life running from his problems, but remains likable. He's taken lives, including his son's through an accident, he's shirked his responsibilities with his family by abandoning them, and he's ran away from his problems instead of facing them head on. He's exchanged all of that for a life of poverty, cold, hunger, and loneliness. Through it all, we still see a side of him that is caring and generous towards his friends, Helen and Rudy, also hobos. We also see that he has no illusions as to his guilt and his place in how his life has turned out. He owns up to it, which is more than we can say for most people. This is a short but powerful look into a life damaged by guilt and remorse and the consequences of our actions and the desire to return home. ( )
1 vote BookishHooker | Dec 16, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
To course o'er better waters now hoists sail the little bark of my wit, leaving behind her a sea so cruel. --Dante, Purgatorio
Dedication
This book is for four good men:
Bill Segarra, Tom Smith, Harry Staley, and Frank Trippett.
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Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This tale, set during the Depression, tells about Francis Phelan and other inhabitants of skid row in Albany, New York. 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. Chronicles the final wanderings of a one-time ballplayer turned down-and-out murderer.

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