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Ironweed [Paperback]

William Kennedy
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 29 1984
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...

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"A powerfully affecting work, abounding in humor and heartbreak."Chicago Tribune Bookworld

"A remarkable and most original novel."Alison Lurie


"A powerfully affecting work, abounding in humor and heartbreak."Chicago Tribune Bookworld

"A remarkable and most original novel."Alison Lurie

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Work of Art Dec 28 2002
William Kennedy's Ironweed is a skillfully crafted work of art. Billy Phelan is an often-drunk, murderous bully and, at other times, a very compassionate and generous person. This is not an unusual combination. He is running from mistakes of the past, and creating new problems along the way. Billy is an unlikely likeable character, and we want him to overcome the ruinous side of his personality.
The book successfully employs unusual literary devices and great metaphors. These literary devices include (1) the "living" dead in the cemetery, (2) the seemingly real ghosts that constantly haunt Billy Phelan, (3) temporary shift from past to conditional tense near the end of the book, and (4) the mixing of vivid memories into the current situation which tends to blur time and place.
Kennedy composes many haunting metaphors. Here's one: "Helen now sees the spoiled seed of a woman's barren dream: a seed that germinates and grows into a shapeless, windblown weed blossom of no value to anything, even its own species, for it produces no seed of its own; a mutation that grows only into the lovely day like all other wild things, and then withers, and perishes, and falls, and vanishes."
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Herculean Struggle with the Past May 6 2008
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
As the first novel in his Albany Cycle, Kennedy has definitely produced one tough, hard-nosed novel about surviving on the street during America's Great Depression. How brutal is life for Francis Phelan, a middle-age hobo consumed with a deep-seated guilt and a lot of fading memories about the good times? Kennedy succeeds in creating a stirring tale of one man's efforts to stay alive in the present while haunted by failures in the past. Francis, after twenty-two years of absence from his hometown of Albany, New York returns home to try and put the pieces back together. There is his failing as a husband and father to be accounted for; his sense of mental anguish at indirectly causing his baby son's death; and his inability to succeed at a baseball career that has Francis in a state of mental torment. Everywhere he goes, he is harassed by the ghosts of the past that mock him for his woeful inadequacies. The reader should be under no illusion that what he or she has encountered is a loser pure and simple, who chooses to wallow in his despair so much that it's small wonder he doesn't self-destruct. Alcohol (hooch and beer) becomes the opiate that dulls the haunting memories and searing pains of his miserable past. His life has been reduced to connecting with like-minded derelicts who encourage him to stay alive long enough in the present to somehow realize the tantalizing lure of the future. This is a very captivating story that encompasses a man's efforts to find a glimmer of fulfillment in a social wasteland called the Depression. While the story is probably quite overdone in places to the point of becoming nauseating and dismal, Kennedy definitely creates one tough `Ironweed' character, who in the movie is played by no less than Jack Nicholson himeself. His description of the local sites and scenery makes Albany come alive as a city that contains a distant past, a very real present, and an alluring future.
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4.0 out of 5 stars modern day classic Jan. 31 2004
I buy books from the used book store and when ever I go there I try to find the "good deals" on some first edition or another collectible from any Noble Prize winner. I had never heard of William Kennedy. (The only Kennedy's I can recall have initials JF etc and were from New England. Unfortunately they did not have the time or energy to write any work of fiction.) So I almost skipped it. The guy standing next to me (I ignored him as another old fart who gives advice since its free) - advice me to buy it and told me that I will not regret spending this 2 dollars. (Well I donate more than that to starbucks every morning). I am glad I took his advice and bought the book. I was right on hooked to the book from the very first line.
The primary character of the book is Billy Phelan, an ex-ball player, full time drunk, part time grave digger, who has hit the rock bottom. Well again what is bottom - something which is half empty to me is half full to somebody else. Bill Phelan realizes the problems of his life but never puts his chin down. You will love the guts of this character. He suffers from his own misdeeds of the past and his past haunts him since he tries to find justification for all his acts except for one act. This one act is his accidental fatal dropping of his infant. Bill never tries to justify that act.
Sometimes that dialogue between Bill and his hobo friends reminded me of "Of Mice and Men" - all the dialogues are remarkable. Bill is like the character of Freddie Mercury (Freddie used to be loud and his acts defined him to certain extent but it was his song which immortalized him. You may not love Freddie but you cannot deny his presence in the music scene) - you can avoid Bill or hate him but you cannot deny his presence. He is like the pole of a magnet either you are attracted or repelled.
I like reading it and will keep it in my collection - hope you will like it too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Humanity at its Limits Oct. 21 2003
Both dark and astoundingly, funny, IRONWEED is one of those books that never leave your memory. It doesn't last long on your bookshelf, though; you are always lending it out or re-reading some, if not all of it. Set in Depression-era Albany, IRONWEED is an unforgettable tale of one man's search to reconcile himself with a past riddled with calamity and many loves gone awry.

The opening chapter, where protagonist Francis Phelan and his friend, Rudy, work as gravediggers for a day is as great a piece of dark comedy as the scene where Hamlet meets the gravediggers. I felt a sort of uneasiness about laughing at all of Francis Phelan's wisecracks, though. We know that they all stem from a life filled with pain, alcoholism, terrible coincidences, and frustrated dreams. Yet, he is a generous man. He will give those even more down-and-out than himself the last bite of his sandwich or the last sip from his bottle of cheap wine. And it is this sort of attitude--slivers of hopefulness out of seemingly permanent bleakness, generosity out of poverty, humanity out of an unfeeling world--that gives the book its life, humor, and appeal.
Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars a plot outline for a greater novel
given, i havent finished the novel, but the reading so far has been less than satisfying. this is so poorly written and disconnected from emotion, which is a culminating aspect of... Read more
Published on Dec 1 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars If there's a thing called "Americana", THIS must be it
This is not my favourite fiction- but I read it, finished it, and loved most of it.
A thin yet juicy work of art, IRONWEED is considered part of great American story-telling. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2003 by JRU
5.0 out of 5 stars A hidden treasure
I have to admit that I had never heard of William Kennedy or IRONWEED when I ran across the book on the sale table at a local book store. Read more
Published on June 21 2003 by C. Ellen Connally
3.0 out of 5 stars Down and Out in Albany
I was a bit underwhelmed by this book- although that might have been part of the point. As it gives us a glimpse in to the tragic lives of a few locals, it also gives us a taste... Read more
Published on April 25 2003 by Bobby Jasak
1.0 out of 5 stars I may have to stop reading!
This novel is highly stimulating for the mind's eye, but lacks the impetus to draw one's heart to any of the characters. Read more
Published on April 20 2003 by Garett Schmitt
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite shure about this one
There is alote about this book that I question. I do feel that it is well writen and worth reading, but I do not feal that it is up to par with most classics. Read more
Published on June 20 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars An overrated weed?
This is a highly evocative book of the life of a skid-row bum in 1930s America--in many ways one of the most evocative accounts of this type of experience I've read since Grapes of... Read more
Published on June 15 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Hope for forgiveness, at the end of the road
In "Ironweed", William Kennedy gives us an honest look at Depression-era homelessness, without either trivializing the hardship or glamorizing the dangers inherent in life on the... Read more
Published on Feb. 21 2002 by Angela Belt
3.0 out of 5 stars Depressing
First of all, this book is well-written. Kennedy is very talented. However, the mood is bleak, depressing and one of desolation. Read more
Published on Sept. 29 2001 by lanoitan
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