Ironweed by William Kennedy

Ironweed by William Kennedy is a book I’ve read because it is on the Top 100 of the 20th century list that I’m tackling.

The beginning is quite sad. The book came across as quite enigmatic at the beginning. Set in the Albany, New York, area. First published in 1983. Set in 1938. Francis Phelan played professional baseball in the past, but when the book opens, he’s a bum. He may or may not be over his drinking problem.

A quick quote, from page 22, Phelan is talking with Rudy:

“Pig’s ass. And he won’t feed you till you listen to him preach. I watch the old bums sittin’ there and I wonder about them. What are you all doin’, sittin’ through his bullshit? But they’s all tired and old, they’s all drunks. They don’t believe in nothin’. They’s just hungry.”

“I believe in somethin’,” Rudy said. “I’m a Catholic.”

“Well so am I. What the hell has that got to do with it?”

A quote from Phelan’s friend Helen: “I believe we die when we can’t stand it anymore. I believe we stand as much as we can and then we die when we can, and Sandra decided she could die.”

The synopsis from the back cover: “Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger, full-time drunk, has hit bottom. Years ago he left Albany in a hurry 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 …”

For some reason it was a bit of an awkward transition for me to read the Northeast manner of speech. Maybe I’ve lived long enough in the South.

These two sentences are repeated several times in the book: “Katie bar the door. Too wet to plow.” What does this mean? I found them a few times online, but I didn’t find an origin or meaning.

Good words:
• plangently, used here to modify compassionate. The definition: Loud, reverberating, and often melancholy.
• calumny: the making of false and defamatory statements to damage someone’s reputation; slander

If I could only say one thing about this book, it might be: It’s graphic. I’m still processing this book; I’m not sure what to say about it at the moment. It’s growing on me quickly, though.

It received the Pulitzer Prize in 1984.

Kennedy got his start in newspaper journalism.


5 responses to “Ironweed by William Kennedy

  1. Thanks for this review. Now I don’t have to read it. I’m not sure I could get through it. I did see the movie, though and recommend it … maybe. Jack Nicholson as lead. It seemed long and almost pointless and then Tom Waits pops in (forgot his character’s name) making the experience a bit idiosyncratic (sp?)
    Funny, though. You do spend time working through it, thinking about it afterwards. I did enjoy this review, regardless of the book’s sad premise.

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  3. Pingback: Pulitzer books « Word Lily

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