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.
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