Books by William Kennedy

Released: Sept. 29, 2011

"Full of larger-than-life characters, strong men and stronger women who marry personal passions to national events, Kennedy's novel has the mark of genius, yet a surfeit of names and plot threads discourage readers from fully engaging."
Kennedy (Roscoe, 2002, etc.), whose 1983 Albany-centered novel Ironwood won the Pulitzer Prize, returns to his upstate New York home turf with a side trip to Cuba in this decades-jumping novel about a journalist's less-than-objective brushes with history. Read full book review >
ROSCOE by William Kennedy
Released: Jan. 14, 2002

"Hardly a work of art, then, but a fine, feisty addition to the impudent and entertaining Albany Cycle."
"She named me after a housekeeper? Why? / Same reason she threw hard-boiled eggs at her poodle." Read full book review >
THE FLAMING CORSAGE by William Kennedy
Released: May 1, 1996

``Leave the dead. Let's salvage the tie left to us,'' the protagonist of Kennedy's latest pleads with his distant, despairing wife. The struggle to escape the past is at the heart of this subtle, wise, original work. This latest installment in Kennedy's ambitious Albany Cycle returns to, and deepens, many of the themes central to the series: the wayward nature of the human heart, the manner in which grief, regret, and enduring need shape and often remake family life, the way in which art, at its best, can clarify and transform life's losses and pain. The sixth in the cycle (previous volumes include Legs, 1975; Ironweed, 1983, which won the Pulitzer Prize; and, most recently, Very Old Bones, 1992) spans the period from the 1880s to 1912. At its center is yet another vibrant, tragic couple: Edward Daugherty, a brilliant playwright, and his equally headstrong, melancholy wife, Katrina. Surrounding them is a cast of other distinct and startling figures: Francis Phelan, Katrina's lover and a hero of Albany's working-class Irish community; the talented, self-destructive journalist Thomas Maginn; and Melissa Spencer, a gifted, conscienceless actress who becomes Daugherty's lover and sets in motion a murder/suicide that comes close to destroying Daugherty. The long, unremitting effort of Albany's Irish population to seize power from the governing elite is never far from the action: Daugherty, given a start in life by a wealthy benefactor, uses his plays to celebrate the resiliency of the Irish and lampoon the Dutch and English who rule the town. That theme, however, never predominates—the long struggle of Edward and Katrina to cope with a series of deaths and betrayals gives the novel its shape and narrative drive. Filled with precise details of Albany's vanished life, narrated in a prose both salty and exact, catching the vigorous cadence of spoken English, this is the most impressive entry in the Albany Cycle since Ironweed. (First printing of 100,000; $75,000 ad/promo) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1994

Another offbeat tall tale from the authors of Charlie Malarkey and the Belly-Button Machine (1990); William Kennedy is also the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Ironweed and other adult fiction. Barnaby, the moose in question—appealingly long- faced in Schindler's exuberant depiction—is an unwilling circus star, captive of moose-trainer Bungaroo. Barnaby can only sing with the help of a polka-dot tie, which ends up in Charlie's possession. The tie enables Charlie's monkey, Max, to sing—and also, when hidden (from bad-guy Bungaroo) in the freezer, causes a quartet of fish sticks to burst into harmony. In the end, Bungaroo gets his comeuppance, and Charlie sets Barnaby free; but this inevitable outcome is second to the wordplay and whimsical shenanigans along the way, much enhanced by the authors' crisp delivery. Better-than-average slapstick; Schindler's adroit caricatures suit the playful tone. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1993

From Pulitzer-winning novelist Kennedy (Very Old Bones, 1992, etc.), over 80 articles, reviews, interviews, and miscellaneous pieces—``a chorale of my own assumed voices.'' Before, during, and after halting (but ultimately successful) attempts to find his fictional voice, Kennedy plowed the fields of nonfiction as a reporter, book critic, and pop-culture fan. These pieces have been culled from nearly 40 years of this work, ranging from a 1954 tongue-in-cheek obit of Langford, a ``Widely Known Albany Cat,'' to a 1992 tribute to childhood idol Damon Runyon. The quality here ranges as widely as the time span. A few segments might have been better left out (notably those dealing with his wife's hiccups and Diane Sawyer's blond beauty); and the early journalism, though highly competent, bears marks of being written on the fly and lacks the lyricism that makes Kennedy's ``Albany cycle'' of novels soar. Meanwhile, the literary reviews and interviews reveal the author's heroes and mentors (Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, John Steinbeck, Robert Penn Warren, John O'Hara, and E.L. Doctorow), as well as his fascination with Latin American writers (an interview with Gabriel Garc°a M†rquez became the first biographical report on the writer in both the US and Britain). Appreciations of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and jazz pianist Joey Bolden are warm and charming fan's notes but seldom incisive. Aficionados will be most interested in Kennedy's accounts of his first stab at short-story writing; of his relatives (including an uncle who served as a partial model for Francis Phelan); Ironweed's astonishing rejection by 13 publishers; two brief encounters with Hollywood as a screenwriter; and, of course, the hardscrabble, raffish Irish-Catholic Albany milieu that the author has re-created as lovingly as Joyce's Dublin or Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Not Kennedy in his best, heart-stirring fictional mode—but often funny, charming, and certainly indicative of the subterranean personal and literary roots that bore glorious fruit in his novels. Read full book review >
VERY OLD BONES by William Kennedy
Released: April 30, 1992

Kennedy's latest installment in the Albany cycle (Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, Ironweed) continues the saga of the Phelan family in a familiar mix of surreal flourishes and gritty naturalism. Humor leavens the mix, but this one is still a grab- bag—a family chronicle that gets weighed down with too many attempts to sum up or recapitulate. It's written as a mock-memoir by Orson Purcell, ``a bit of a magician,'' who is the bastard son of Peter Phelan, older brother of Francis (Ironweed). Orson is attempting to put the humpty-dumpty of familial life together again during a climactic family gathering, in 1958, by chronicling his own life, his father's, and three past generations. Peter, a painter, returns to Albany (from a long exile in Greenwich Village) in 1954, and stays to document the family's history in paint and to care for brother Tommy, a sort of ``holy moron.'' The cast here is large and various: highlights include Francis, who returns in 1934 to attend a family funeral for matriarch Kathryn and nearly commits suicide, and Orson's own colorful interlude in Germany during the Korean War, where he meets Giselle (``I had never been more excited by a woman's body...'') and becomes a cardsharp. While some of this is thumbnail-thin, covering too much ground, Orson's narrative is finally a meditation on art, focused on father Peter, whose artistic cycle includes guilt, remorse, delight with remorse, self-destruction, boredom, and the resumption of art—``art again being the doorway into the emotional life....'' Orson's family saga, then, narrates and enlarges the pictorial one of his father: Kennedy's achievement is to place all of this into a comic structure that is, in the end, elegiac and celebratory. Tough-guy dialogue, hardheaded realism, flights of prose- -Kennedy's trademarks are here, but this one has the feel of a code: ``...we are never without our overcoats, however lice-ridden, of our ancestors.'' Read full book review >
IRONWEED by William Kennedy
Released: Jan. 10, 1982

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. Read full book review >