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.