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Ironweed by William J. Kennedy
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2,053384,982 (3.82)103
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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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Why I Stopped Reading on p. 20: Some of the writing in that first chapter intrigues me, and I wanted to connect with the story of Francis Phelan, a man who is broken by guilt and unable to go home, who becomes a hobo during the Great Depression. What I wasn't prepared for (and through which I can't seem to persevere)--the omniscient point of view being used to hop into the heads of ghosts who are watching Francis from their graves, then back into Francis's head with a stream-of-consciousness that slips in and out of second person (the "you" being Francis to himself). It's clear all these elements are deliberate style choices by the author, but it doesn't work for me.
  AmandaGStevens | Mar 2, 2019 |
I thought this was a dark comedy, but maybe I’m just an awful person? An involving, sympathetic look at some Albany souses ( )
  alexrichman | Jan 30, 2019 |
Vernônia narra a vida de um pobre diabo na América do Norte dos anos 1930s - um dos relatos mais evocativos daquele tipo de vivência desde Vinnhas da Ira. Ainda assim, achei o livro decepcionante. Francis Phelan é um personagem implausível, que não progride e por isso o enredo se torna estático. Ele é retratado como bom demais para ser verdade. É difícil conciliar os méritos de seu comportamento altruísta com os deméritos de seu passado assassino. A cena de sexo com Katrina chega a ser incompreensível: "Francis abraçou Katrina e injetou nela o sangue impecável de seu primeiro amor, ela cedeu não como um ser, mas como uma palavra: clemência." . O que significa isto exatamente? ( )
  jgcorrea | Dec 29, 2018 |
(9) This slim novel won the Pulitzer maybe in the 1980's. It is the reflections of a 'bum' during the Depression who has been riding the rails, working odd-jobs, and drinking his pay since he was a young man and ran from his family after a tragedy. He returns to his home town of Albany which brings many memories and ghosts of those he has wronged back to him. The novel is mostly his inner struggle to make sense of his life and how he comes to return to the bosom of his very forgiving wife and kids.

It is a lot of dialogue, a lot of stream of consciousness, though easy to follow. It felt very authentic in terms of the diction - my grandfather was from a similar demographic and time and he often spoke thus -"so long, pal." I think without a lot of description or purposeful 'setting the sociopolitical scene' of the times - the novel was very evocative: the baseball, the strikes, hobo camps, life before Federal safety nets, right? But overall, I dunno it just didn't do that much for me. It was a bit tedious and repetitive.

I am not sure I understand the Pulitzer, truth be told. The book is indeed powerful for the introspective punch it packs in relatively few pages. It looks perhaps like it is the third of a group of books and maybe it would be a richer experience if one reads them all. However, I am not compelled to do so. A book that shows up on a lot of - '100 best book' lists so perhaps a modern classic - but I was not overly enamored. I think empirically good, but not necessarily enjoyable for me. ( )
  jhowell | Feb 19, 2017 |
In the town where I live, as in so many cities across the country, there are a lot of homeless people who roam the streets with nowhere to go. I would like to say that I think seriously about their plights, but I don’t suppose that I really do. In fact, aside from offering an occasional handout, I seldom engage these men and women in any meaningful way. Who are they and how did they wind up where they are? Are their situations the result of bad luck or bad choices (or maybe both)? Are their situations temporary or will they spend the rest of their lives enduring their present conditions? Those are questions to which I don’t have answers, mainly because I have never bothered to ask them in the first place.

In Ironweed, William Kennedy fills in the details of one such man’s journey. Francis Phelan, the hero of this deeply affecting novel, has been on the run his whole life, first from an abusive mother and then to follow his career as a professional baseball player, until he finally leaves his home and family for good after a tragic accident for which he takes responsibility. Now, at 58, Francis has grown weary of the road and is trying to find his way back in his hometown of Albany, New York. However, he has descended so far—he has even begun having alcohol-induced hallucinations in which he sees the ghosts of long-dead friends and enemies—that he really has no idea of how, or even if, he can do it.

Set in the late fall of 1938, Ironweed is a spare and unflinching look at the often tragic lives of people who find themselves “on the bum”. To be sure, this is a grim tale, replete with considerable fear, sorrow, and violence, but with very little hope. However, it is also a story that is beautifully told and one that perfectly captures one man’s perspective on the challenges of trying to survive on the streets in Depression-era America. In Francis, the author has created one of the more complex and memorable characters I’ve encountered: strong but vulnerable, violent yet tender and thoughtful, disciplined but occasionally spontaneous. There is little in this novel that will make the reader feel good, but there is much to savor nonetheless, mainly because Kennedy has bothered to ask the right questions. ( )
1 vote browner56 | Jul 17, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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To course o'er better waters now hoists sail the little bark of my wit, leaving behind her a sea so cruel. --Dante, Purgatorio
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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