1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Ghost in the Machine
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...
Published on Sept. 27 2003 by John Holloran
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 battle he becomes part of as an attorney; dealing with his ex-wife, his former love and the child, or not, of his best friend, who has committed suicide...you get the picture. There's a lot going...
Published on June 3 2004 by J. Carroll
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Ghost in the Machine,
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.
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 battle he becomes part of as an attorney; dealing with his ex-wife, his former love and the child, or not, of his best friend, who has committed suicide...you get the picture. There's a lot going on here. Actually there is too much. So many minor characters take up your time and you get constantly pulled into their lives and away from the fascinating world of early Albany politics. The amazing tales of power struggles and "fixing" things the right way are watered down by tales of unrequited love to the detriment of this book. Not a constantly intriguing tale as many of the others in this series and while it's a good read, it pales in comparison with some of Kennedy's other works.
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics and Romantic Yearnings Define this One!,
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. Meanwhile Patsy and his brother Bindy have a falling out over some chickens (they are competitive devotees of cock fighting), which threatens to blow the Albany machine's operations wide open, leaving them prey to the holier-than-thou Republican governor (not mentioned by name but clearly Thomas E. Dewey).
We follow Roscoe as he moves about the town meeting various players, trying to tamp down the problems that keep cropping up and to figure an angle that will enable the Democrats to hold onto power in the upcoming election, no matter what. For Roscoe voting fraud, public bluster and misrepresentation are all tools of the trade. And yet Roscoe is an endearing sort, somewhat overweight and clearly overly romantic, he pines for Veronica while he struggles to hold the rapidly unravelling strands of their lives together, even when Roscoe's former wife, Veronica's sister Pamela, returns to try to extort money from her lovely sibling. Could she be the reason Elisha, Veronica's husband and Roscoe's boyhood friend, took the final powder?
The novel shows us these events through the somewhat hazy, and possibly less than completely reliable, eyes of the clever but world weary Roscoe as he seeks to retrieve his life in one final chance to do more with it than scheme and manipulate votes in the backrooms of Albany. Enjoyable and sharply written, this book faltered about halfway through but picked up again and carried me through to the end. I was, however, a little disappointed by the denouement but the book, on balance, was plainly worth the read.
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. I even stopped halfway through and read another novel, then finished this one. The main characters of this novel are all corrupt politicians, and I found it hard to muster sympathy for corrupt politicians. I just did not care what happened to them. Further, the writing of the subplot about the relationship between Roscoe and his love Veronica was uninspired. In fact, I thought most of the scenes involving the two of them read like a cheap romance paperback.
I loved Kennedy's book "Ironweed" which dealt with the outcasts of Albany's society. This book deals with the insiders of Albany's society. Perhaps this story would have best been left as backstory for other, more engaging, characters.
3.0 out of 5 stars An apology for repressive authority figures?,
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.
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. When one of his closest friends and political allies dies under somewhat suspicious circumstances, Roscoe steps in to prevent further troubles to the friend's family when a custody battle ensues. The plot has some interesting twists and fun-to-read-about characters. The dialog is good, almost too good. I can't imagine that people would actually talk like that, but it is a delight to read. For some reason, while reading this novel, I kept seeing the characters from The Road to Perdition. The 1930s mob and the 1940s Albany political machine have many similarities, according to Kennedy at least. Roscoe is a very well-written novel by a talented novelist--perhaps not his strongest, but still quite good.
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. Roscoe is number seven in what has moved from a trilogy to a "series." For me the series has gotten old. More of the same characters, strange relationships, and unique writing. If you like Kennedy's writing style and other books, there is no reason you would not like this one. I, however, found this one to be a tired retread of the same formulae Kennedy used in his earlier works.
In Roscoe, the main character is another Albany pol who skirts the line between illegality and legality while fostering the political machine's criminal element. The character is not very believable and certainly not sympathetic. His relationships are even less believable.
I should have stopped with Ironweed. I will not go back to numbers four through six of the series.
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. It's all intertwined, and many times when you "know" what happened thats not what happened at all. Forget the nitpicking and just enjoy. I did and wasn't it just grand. Hurray for Kennedy and may we hear from him again.
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. However if you have not read Kennedy before, I would recommend that you read them in the order of publication, though there is no continuity of characters running through them.
If you think violent drug crime is a new problem in our country, you are in for a big surprise. Kennedy's characters of 80 some years ago make todays drive by shootings look like kid stuff.
4.0 out of 5 stars A difficult review to write,
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. The fictional Roscoe Conway is a Falstaffian-figure that would -- at most -- probably be only a minor comedic henchman in most political novels, a man who has spent his life as something of an errand boy (albiet a very powerful errand boy) for the true leaders of the Albany political machine. He's a drinker, a womanizer, and, if a lifetime of aiding political corruption and general graft has left him with the beginnings of a tortured soul, he manages to handle the pain with an admirable good humor. The book opens with the end of World War II and as the nation celebrates, Roscoe's best friend mysteriously commits suicide. Roscoe's attempts to understand his friend's death leads him on the expected soul-searching journey. What's unexpected are the surreal detours that journey takes. With poetic, freeform prose, Kennedy mixes accounts of Roscoe's rougish past with a present day storyline (involving his dead friend's widow's -- the woman Roscoe loves -- attempts to not lose custody of her adopted son) that at times seems to deliberately read like a parody of a Douglas Sirk film. Throughout it all, Kennedy presents us with dream-like images that include Roscoe's dead friend coming to life just to immediately die once more, a nonsensical conversation with the Pope, and a brief aside that details Roscoe's late father's head blowing up like a balloon and bursting once it floats up to the ceiling. What these images are meant to represent are left up to the reader, an admirable choice on Kennedy's part that will, nonetheless, leave many readers frustrated. Is Roscoe truly remorseful over the sins of the past, does the widow truly deserve his or anyone's love, and is Albany's idealistic and youthful Mayor a brave hero or a self-righteous fool? These are just a few of the questions that Kennedy forces his readers to ponder. The book, to its own brave credit, declines to directly answer but instead leaves it up to the reader to sort through all the images and figure out what adds up to what.
But before I make Roscoe sound overly pretentious, it should be understood that this is a wonderfully entertaining book and the rapidly paced, cheerfully over-the-top storyline will hold the interest of most readers rather their searching for deeper literary meaning or just a good and enjoyable read. If Kennedy leaves the reader with many mysteries, he also provides an all--too believable revisionist history of both New York and our country that manages to include acidic portraits of everyone from Franklin Roosevelt to Thomas Dewey (never named but obviously meant to be the gnomish Republican governor who causes the Albany machine such trouble) to gangster Legs Diamond. Kennedy populates his political world with a lively and truly memorable gallery of humorous grotesques. Every character -- from the lead character to the town's leading hooker to the definitely psychotic but still rather likeable police detective -- comes vividly to life in Kennedy's masterful prose. Kennedy crafts his characters so that they possess enough quirks to keep the reader on his toes, yet he never commits the all-too common sin of mistaking quirkiness for motivation. And, of course, Kennedy's Albany comes to brilliant life so that by the end of the novel even a dyed-in-the-wool Texan like myself can't help but love the city. No, Roscoe is not a perfect novel but it is definitely one that should be read and cherished for both what it is and what the reader makes of it.
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Roscoe: A Novel by William Kennedy (Hardcover - Sept. 30 2002)
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