William Kennedy – Ironweed

William Kennedy - IronweedThe second book back and I feel the swing coming back like riding a bicycle or throwing a ball. The rust at first, the muscles aren’t ready for it yet, but you’ll pick it up, and everything will make sense after all. Ironweed was one of the Pulitzers that I put down back in April, but I don’t know why I never finished it. Kennedy is a masterful writer who chose a subject matter that is definitely in his ‘wheel house’ to ‘steal’ a baseball term. Ironweed is a gorgeous story, filled with pathos and high drama. Kennedy takes within his scope all of humanity. Kennedy writes at times a slight stutter, he gets in his singularly one or two paragraphs towards the end a little ‘Professorial’ bringing into his novel some ‘English majory’ stuff which didn’t belong there, but other than that rough edge. Other than that, the prose is stunning. The main characters Francis and Helen dance together beautifully throughout their tangled love story, which could be placed amongst the most moving true romances of 20th century fiction. Francis’ leaving scene brought tears to my eyes. It is stunning. It is a perfect ending. It is a perfect ending. Kennedy must have written it first, because it is written too perfectly. I was just in awe of everything, every word, every image was so tight, so crafted, so polished. It was perfect. I cannot express that enough. Some moments weren’t perfect, they were good, just not perfect, but the ending was perfect, breath-taking, life affirming, like you are alive and so are the words and you dance together in a vivacious waltz of literary magic. So on that note this book makes a ruthless ascent into my top 10 novels of all time.

In closing, you will stand back from this novel and watch as Kennedy hammers every scene, every exchange, every image with power and confidence that to a lesser writer this story could have been smarmy and melodramatic. But in my mind’s eye watching Francis, in a dirty ‘new’ suit, carrying a dying old raggety bum across the city piggy back was breath-taking. Just thinking about that scene makes one laugh, Francis a bum finds some old clothes of his in a suitcase, and the things that he chooses to wear on the bum is an old-fashioned suit that he wears to a homeless encampment called The Jungle which is raided by ‘Raiders’, a nameless faceless foe, and gathers together his dying friend and carries all the way back across the city to a hospital. It is incredible in the most unlikely situation every put to paper, but Kennedy makes you believe it. There were so many times throughout the novel that I wanted to break away and criticize as anyone who reads these entries will attest to I criticize these novels harshly because they were nominated as the GREATEST NOVEL WRITTEN IN A GIVEN YEAR, so I don’t think my critique of them can be too harsh, but back to my point, there were several scenes that I was skeptical at first but Kennedy doesn’t let you pull away, he keeps you engage and needs for you to believe him, and you do, you always do, like Helen singing in the bar, and Francis’ ghost stories, they jar a bit at their predictability, but they turn out like gems.


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