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Roscoe A Novel [Hardcover]

William Kennedy
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 17 2002
You've never met a politician like Roscoe (or have you?): a suave Falstaffian in a double-breasted white Palm Beach suit, unscrupulous, brilliant, exploding with courtly romance. It's V-J Day, the war's over, and Roscoe, after twenty-six years as chief braintruster of Albany's notorious political machine, decides to quit politics forever. But there's no exit, only new political wars, mysterious death, self-destructive party feuds, and scandalous threats to his beloved and her family.

Roscoe, the chivalrous warrior, turns his own life, and everybody else's, inside out to cope with the erupting disasters and finds fraudulence an extremely effective combat weapon. "Righteousness doesn't stand a chance against the imagination," he concludes. Every step forward leads Roscoe back to the past-to the early loss of his true love, his own peculiar heroics in the First World War, the takeover of city hall, the fight with FDR and Al Smith to elect a governor, and the methodical assassination of gangster Jack (Legs) Diamond.

Roscoe, William Kennedy's seventh novel in his Albany cycle, illuminates the high and low of Albany life between the world wars. It is an odyssey of great scope and linguistic verve, a deadly comic masterpiece from one of America's most important novelists.

"Kennedy's beguiling yarns are the kind of family myths embellished and retold across a kitchen table at night: whiskified, raunchy, darkly funny, tangles of old resentments and fresh exasperations." (Time )

"When Kennedy writes about Albany, New York, he is in fact holding up a mirror to all of American history . . . his fictional terrain can be compared to the Faulknerian South in its complex richness." (The Washington Post)

"Kennedy's power is such that the reader will follow him almost anywhere, to the edge of tragedy and back again to redemption." (The Wall Street Journal)

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Insubstantial but charming, William Kennedy's Roscoe seems to unintentionally resemble many of the politicians it depicts. The seventh novel in Kennedy's Albany series, Roscoe follows Roscoe Conway, a quick-witted, charismatic lawyer-politician who has devoted much of his life to helping his Democratic Party cohorts achieve and maintain political power in 1930s and ‘40s Albany, New York. It's 1945, and Roscoe has decided to retire from politics, but a series of deaths and scandals forces him to stay and confront his past. Kennedy takes the reader on an intricate, whirlwind tour of (mostly) fictional Albany in the first half of the 20th century. He presents a mythologized, tabloid version of history, leaving no stone unturned: a multitude of gangsters, bookies, thieves, and hookers mingle with politicians, cops, and lawyers. In the middle of it all is Roscoe, the kind of behind-the-scenes, wisecracking, truth-bending man of the people who makes everything happen--or at least it's fun to think so. Kennedy shows an obvious affection for his book's colorful characters and historic Albany, and he describes both with loving specificity. Though the book often works as light comedy, its clichéd plot developments and stereotypical characters undermine its serious concerns with truth, history, and honor. "You've never met a politician like Roscoe Conway," promises the book's jacket blurb. But we have, through his different roles in countless films and TV series. As with its notoriously deceitful hero, Roscoe is likeable as long as you don't take it too seriously. --Ross Doll

From Publishers Weekly

"Roscoe Owens Conway presided at Albany Democratic Party headquarters, on the eleventh floor of the State Bank building, the main stop for Democrats on the way to heaven." Thus begins Kennedy's first novel in five years, the seventh installment in his Albany cycle, which includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ironweed. He continues to display the insider's confident mastery of fact, the sharp-edged irony that contrasts appearance and reality and the vision of the outcomes to which his characters are fated. Roscoe is fixer for Albany, N.Y., and on V-J Day, 1945, the Democratic machine is under threat. The external enemy is New York's Republican governor, gathering evidence of the widespread corruption gambling, prostitution, violence that hallmarks Democratic leader Patsy McCall's rule. The mysterious suicide of Elisha Fitzgibbon, the machine's moneyman, sets the events in motion. Internally, the machine is strife ridden: Roscoe must patch up the hostility between McCall and his brother over a cockfight; he must deal with the conflict between police lieutenant and McCall gunsel Jeremiah "Mac" McEvoy and Roscoe's brother, O.B., the chief of police; and he must secure the mayoral re-election of Alex, Elisha's son. Meanwhile, Roscoe seems near a lifelong goal: marrying Veronica, Elisha's widow. As in all of Kennedy's Albany novels, the town is rendered with a hallucinatory, three-dimensional density. The seams of the past from politics to business to crime are split open, but Roscoe's job is to keep Albany's secret history secret. A good man at heart, he is corrupted by his means (blackmail, lies and faked testimony) until his dearest goals are thwarted. This is an engrossing, comic vision of the dark side of politics as the "art of the possible." Readers who were disappointed by the thinness of The Flaming Corsage, the Albany novel that preceded this one, will rejoice at the arrival of the full-blooded Roscoe. 10-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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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 Ghost in the Machine Sept. 27 2003
Set in one of this country's oldest and most enduring political towns, Roscoe, by William Kennedy, conveys a comfortable familiarilty with the role of the back room party boss. One of the last bastions of the democratic Machine made famous by Tammany Hall, Albany recently sported a Major (Erastus Corning II) who served for forty-two years. Republicans eventually gave up and moved to the suburbs rather than try to fight Albany's City Hall. Politicians play rough in Albany--they know how to hit you where you live. Americans are for the most part idealists when it comes to politics and are shocked and disillussioned by even the whiff of political impropriety or vested interests. Roscoe portrays an old world approach to political power, where able politicians never leave anything to chance (or to the electorate). Kennedy places you on the inside of the machine, and conjures up the complex and dreamy psyche of an aging fixer, a lawyer whose connections, and ability to dig up the dirt on anyone, allows him always to pronounce the last word. The political power and corruption are the backdrop to a more human drama, however--the emergence of a romance whose roots can be traced well back in the old calculus of gaining city hall, a romance that presents Roscoe the opportunity to love after a lifetime of patience and unconscious longing. Kennedy's great achievement lies in this ability to discover the heart of a man we'd all fear, envy, and loathe--a man whose tired and elegaic musings demand no sympathy, ask no indulgence, and offer no apologies--and to lead us to the point where this unlikely hero exposes that heart to an equally world-weary woman, the love of his youth. Political aspirants should read this book to discover if they have a soul like Roscoe's, one that can live in the muck and simultaneuosly still come up smelling roses.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Politics and Romantic Yearnings Define this One! Jan. 13 2004
The story of one man's immersion in a world of political and personal corruption, this novel follows the efforts of political operative Roscoe Conway to break free from the milieu in which he's spent his adult life: Albany politics. Mixing political shenanigans with Depression-era bootlegging and gangsterism, the story opens shortly after the end of World War II with our eponymous hero seeking a way out. But his buddies, Patsy McCall (the town's Democratic Party boss) and Elisha Fitzgibbon, a local blueblood and businessman, who, together with the shrewd Roscoe, make up the Democratic Party triumvirate that wields power in Albany, demand his continued attention. Patsy asks Roscoe to hang around a while longer and then Elisha goes and dies under suspect circumstances, sucking Roscoe back into the vortex of political maneuvering and personal feuds that define his world. As the Republican governor tries to get the goods on the Democratic party leaders and young Alex Fitzgibbon, son of Elisha, returns from the war (he'd volunteered to serve as a private in the infantry) to resume his old seat as Albany's mayor, things really heat up. State troopers are snooping around and trying to bust the brothels and gambling establishments secretly operated by the Democratic chieftains even as Roscoe must try to avoid the whiff of scandal occasioned by Elisha's untimely demise. For Roscoe this is doubly hard since Elisha's widow is also Roscoe's first and, apparently, only true love. So while trying to figure out the secret behind Elisha's abrupt "departure" from the world of Albany's living, Roscoe initiates a tentative courtship of the beautiful Veronica, Alex's mother, at the same time. Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars An apology for repressive authority figures? Jan. 25 2003
Kennedy, in his NY Times article on "writers on writing," says that to write a novel about Albany politics he had to understand the movers and shakers, and not focus journalistically on their corruption. He has shown in a sense the self-defeating aspects of power, but Roscoe and possibly his colleagues seem irrepressible. Maybe it shouldn't but this galls me. Why doesn't Kennedy show the consequences of this predatory machine. They have insured continuing poverty and stunted lives among the poor; money meant for public projects goes to the politicans' pockets or party funds; the Machine louts bathe themselves and their constituents in shallow cliches just as their counterparts, state and federal, do today; they use police brutality and regressive taxes to destroy enemies and keep citizens from health care, education and recreational facilities.
Are the political scoundrels and their shallow, spoiled wives, mistresses and children Kennedy writes about given too much respect? Where are the social pathologies and injustices that result from Roscoe's cleverness? Compare Kennedy's to political novels of Robert Penn Warren, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Chester Himes, Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren. I sense in Roscoe, despite its verve, historical acuteness, and rounded characters, an apology for--or at least an unpleasant amusement regarding, repressive, predatory authority.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A difficult review to write April 10 2002
Of all the reviews I've ever written for amazon, this has to be one of the most difficult. I completed the latest novel in William Kennedy's Albany cycle two weeks ago and I'm still not quite sure what I think of it. This is hardly meant as a negative comment. Most books I read rarely linger in the memory past one or two days after I turn the final page. However, Roscoe is a book that has haunted my mind. If, while reading the book, I was occasionally frustrated by the feeling that -- as skillfull a writer as the author obviously is -- Kennedy had just missed the chance to create something great, I must also say that many of the darkly humorous, somewhat disturbing images that Kennedy paints have continued to haunt my mind. I have always felt that the sign of a true work of art isn't how much it might entertain while you're experiencing it but how it affects the way you see your own reality once the initial experience is complete. A great work of art for me is one that literally infects the world around you. Roscoe is that type of art. I'm not giving this book four stars because I feel its flawless but because its mysteries have stayed with me even after I expected them to be forgotten.
Impishly mixing fact and fantasy, Roscoe tells the story of the infamous Albany political machine of the early 20th century. It was a machine that produced some great men while building its foundations on the actions of some very bad men and it is this juxtaposition that Kennedy gleefully juggles over the course of his narrative.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A minor addition to the Albany cycle
Roscoe, is a political fixer for the Albany political machine. In this novel, we see his life in bits and pieces, bouncing from his misspent youth to the rather bizarre custody... Read more
Published on June 3 2004 by J. Carroll
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Kennedy's best
Granted this book is well-researched and well-written, but I cannot say that I could not put it down. In fact, I did put it down. Several times. Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2003 by Matthew Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Crooked Politicians - Shocking!
Roscoe Conway is a semi-honest lawyer-politician in 1940s Albany. He wants to get out of the whole political realm, but they keep pulling him back. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2003 by Elizabeth Hendry
2.0 out of 5 stars More of the Same
Having read the original "Albany Trilogy," I knew what to expect from William Kennedy. "Ironweed" was by far the best. Read more
Published on Sept. 30 2002 by Rick Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as it gets
Yes to all the words of praise for Roscoe. I went on a reading binge of these seven novels over a six week period. What a saga. Read more
Published on May 15 2002 by "seniorreader"
4.0 out of 5 stars If you are already a Knnedy fan, this book is great
If you have already gotten hooked on Kennedy's world of Irish/Italian/Jewish organized crime/politics in the Prohibition era of Albany, you will enjoy this. Read more
Published on April 14 2002 by Senor Zorro
4.0 out of 5 stars Probably Kennedy's best since Ironweed
Yes, Roscoe Conway is a classic William Kennedy character, right up there with Legs Diamond and Francis Phelan. Read more
Published on April 2 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Fixer
Roscoe's a man without a life of his own. He's the well educated prominent son of a three time Albany mayor but always in the background, second fiddle to Patsy and Elisha but... Read more
Published on March 6 2002 by "curtcow"
3.0 out of 5 stars The underside of local politics
I absolutely loved Kennedy's original Albany trilogy (though, "Ironweed" is head and shoulders above the others). Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2002 by Michael K. McKeon
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